Researcher Spotlight: Craig Portell, MD
University of Virginia
Dr. Portell, an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Virginia (UVA), joined UVA’s faculty in order to work with Dr. Michael E. Williams, a Lymphoma Research Foundation (LRF) Scientific Advisory Board member. His LRF Clinical Research Mentoring Program (LCRMP) project is a clinical trial testing the combination of ibrutinib (Imbruvica) with the BCL-2 protein inhibitor ABT-199 in mantle cell lymphoma (MCL). “We have been working on targeted therapy combinations in lymphoma, particularly MCL, and using the laboratory expertise of Dr. Michael Weber at UVA to find rationale combinations to take to clinical trial,” Dr. Portell explains. “Dr. Weber’s lab identified that ibrutinib and ABT-199 seem encouraging in pre-clinical models for MCL. I was lucky enough to start work on the clinical trial, using this pre-clinical data as rationale, and thus the project was born.”
Dr. Portell received his MD from Saint Louis University School of Medicine before a residency at Loyola University School of Medicine (in Illinois) and a fellowship at Cleveland Clinic’s Taussig Cancer Institute. Already interested in blood cancers after his residency, Dr. Portell credits his work with Dr. John Sweetenham at Cleveland Clinic with focusing that interest on lymphoma research and clinical trials. “We were trying to get a patient [with aggressive Non-Hodgkin lymphoma] to a stem cell transplant but unfortunately, further chemotherapy was not effective. We tried non-chemotherapy treatments but this also was not helpful and the lymphoma ultimately won.” Dr. Portell notes. “My experiences with lymphoma prior to this patient were mostly good stories and this patient showed me how much more work was needed in the field.” In addition to his research and clinical duties, Dr. Portell has participated in LRF’s patient education efforts as a presenter in the Ask the Doctor program.
Now in his first faculty position at UVA, Dr. Portell hopes his selection as an LRF Scholar will improve both his current project as well as his future career in research. “The endorsement of this project by LRF will bring much needed attention to novel combination trials in lymphoma,” he says. “Further, the LCRMP workshop will provide me with much needed training in clinical trial design and implementation which will only improve my career and future clinical trials.” Dr. Portell adds that working with the lymphoma experts who make up the LCRMP workshop faculty is also a draw of the program. “Their mentorship and guidance with this study and with my career will be invaluable to my development.”