In January 2015, Ravi Bhatia, MD, joined the UAB Department of Medicine as Director of the Division of Hematology and Oncology and the Deputy Director of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center. Bhatia spent the past eight years as Director of the Division of Hematopoietic Stem Cell and Leukemia Research at City of Hope, in Duarte, California, one of the nations’ most successful leukemia treatment centers. Here, he answers a few questions about his newBhatia Ravi MD role at UAB.

What specifically brought you to UAB?
What drew me here was the excellent reputation of UAB as a cancer center, the outstanding faculty in the Department of Medicine and Medical School, and most of all the high quality of the leadership and their vision to develop the Division to become one of the best in the world. I think that the five research pillars of AMC21 (personalized medicine, informatics, fundamentals of basic science, inflammation and immunity, outcomes and population health) represent a broad and exciting vision for the future of UAB. Each one of these five plays an important role in our hopes and plans for development of the Division.

My wife Smita and I were also attracted by the collegiality and the collaborative nature of UAB. We were in a really outstanding organization, but it was purely a cancer treatment center. In the broader setting of the university, we enjoy the stimulation that comes from the breadth and depth of interactions that occur here—the new ideas come from talking to people from outside our specific areas of expertise.

What’s your top priority for the Division of Hematology and Oncology as its new leader?

An important priority is to enhance cohesion and integration within the Division—to have the clinical and research members of the Division work more closely together and to enhance mentorship and growth of junior faculty. As a leading Hematology-Oncology Division and Cancer Center, it is central to our mission to advance knowledge from the bench to the bedside—to translate what we are learning from our research in the laboratory into the clinic to benefit our patients. And vice versa, our laboratory efforts need to be informed and guided by what we are doing in the clinic. It is an iterative process that will allow continuous improvement in the ways we deliver treatment to our patients. Achieving this in addition to continued development of existing faculty will require recruitment of many new faculty, so that there is integrated development of the whole Division. It’s an ambitious agenda, but I think that we are ready to achieve this.

Where do you see the fight against cancer in 10 years?

In the last 15-20 years, we’ve seen an explosion of knowledge about the mechanisms of cancer, and we are now seeing this knowledge being translated into development of new anti-cancer drugs. These drugs have the potential to be more potent in eliminating cancer cells while sparing normal tissues in a way that has not been possible with previous anti-cancer treatments. In addition, we have been attempting to harness the immune system to treat cancer for many years. It’s really in the last five years or so that these efforts have come to fruition. The challenge we are facing now is to find the best, most effective way to apply these treatments, and to match the increasing numbers of treatment options available to the individual patient, and the molecular characteristics of their tumors. I think there’s a huge opportunity here to greatly improve outcomes for cancer treatment, and we definitely want to see UAB leading the field in this area.

What advice do you have for young researchers?

They should know that this is really a very exciting time to be a Hematology-Oncology physician or researcher. Whether you are working in the bench to understand basic mechanisms of cancer or to develop a new treatment, conducting clinical trials of new drugs and combinations, measuring determinants of outcomes, or providing care to cancer patients and their families, the field is rapidly advancing and there are lots of new opportunities. You must go with where your passions are, identify the area that excites you, and then focus on making a difference in that area. You are living in a time where you can truly make a difference.
What are you most excited about regarding living in Birmingham?

Moving to Birmingham has been a big but very pleasant change from California. Birmingham is a much more manageable city to be in—I certainly don’t miss the traffic in Los Angeles. It’s been very welcoming, and we feel at home here already. People are just really warm and friendly. We are looking forward to spring.

We are honored to have both Dr. Bhatia and his wife, Smita Bhatia, MD, MPH, join our team and we look forward to great things ahead. To read more about them and their interests and accomplishments, please click on the following link to the UAB News.