Researcher Spotlight: Suchitra Sundaram, MD
The Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine
Over the past several years, targeted therapy with small molecule inhibitors and antibodies has replaced chemotherapy as the standard treatment for patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Despite these significant advances, CLL remains incurable for a majority of patients. While most patients enjoy long-lasting remissions with existing novel therapies, it is becoming apparent that a subset of those (especially those with high-risk CLL genetics) eventually develop resistance to these treatments and have relapsed disease. Thus, new treatment strategies that target pathways of resistance are needed. Dr. Sundaram’s preclinical work in the lab showed promise in the ability of an epigenetic therapy called bromodomain protein inhibitor (BRD4 inhibitor) in enhancing the anti-cancer effect of venetoclax (Venclexta) in CLL cells and potentially target some of these resistance pathways. As her LRF research project, Dr. Suchitra Sundaram proposes a clinical trial to test this BRD4 inhibitor in combination with venetoclax in patients with CLL who have relapsed or are refractory to previous treatments. “By combating drug resistance, our hope with this clinical trial is for patients to have longer remissions, translating into fewer relapses,” she says.
Dr. Sundaram began her medical career at the Lokmanya Tilak Medical College in Mumbai, India. She went on to intern and completed her residency at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. She is a physician-investigator at Roswell Park Cancer Institute with a focus on lymphoid malignancies. In the summer of 2021, Dr. Sundaram will be transitioning to the Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine in New York where she will continue her lymphoma research. “I derive my inspiration to be committed to research from my patients who, through their cancer treatment journey, have taught me lessons on courage, resilience, and defying the odds. This has helped me remain perseverant in my research efforts and to never give up,” Dr. Sundaram notes.
In ten years’ time, Dr. Sundaram would like to become an independent clinical investigator in lymphoma/CLL. “I hope to further the existing scientific knowledge of lymphoma and continue developing novel targeted treatments and immunotherapeutic strategies for patients with lymphoma and CLL,” she states. She would also like to collaborate with philanthropists and scientists in her home country, India, to improve accessibility in India to novel drugs for lymphoma and CLL. “The LSRMP has provided me with excellent mentorship and feedback in transforming my research protocol into a feasible study. The LSRMP workshop also gave me some valuable tips on career development and extensive networking opportunities with other early-career scientists.”