September 26, 2014

Offering promise instead of health challenges to cancer survivors

Written by
smitha-bhatiaSmita Bhatia, M.D., MPH, is a distinguished pediatric oncologist with a strong interest in cancer outcomes across all diagnoses and all age groups. In January she will be joining the University of Alabama at Birmingham to tackle the health challenges cancer survivors face during and after treatment.  

As a professor in the UAB Department of Pediatrics, Bhatia will hold new positions as director of the Institute for Cancer Outcomes and Survivorship (pending UA System Board of Trustees approval) in the UAB School of Medicine, vice chair for outcomes in the Department of Pediatrics, and associate director for cancer outcomes research at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center. She will also join the Children’s of Alabama medical staff and be the co-director of the Center for Outcomes and Effectiveness Research and Education

“We are thrilled that Smita will join the Division of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology. She will be a beacon to our clinical and research operation,” said Mitchell Cohen, M.D., chair of the UAB Department of Pediatrics and physician-in-chief at Children’s of Alabama. “Smita is an internationally recognized leader, and her primary focus will be to establish a comprehensive program for cancer outcomes and survivorship research at UAB and Children’s of Alabama.”

Bhatia comes to UAB from the City of Hope in Duarte, California, where she established the Department of Population Sciences and serves as its chair. While at City of Hope, she became the inaugural holder of the Ruth Ziegler Chair in Population Sciences. 

During her 18 years at City of Hope, Bhatia made several significant scientific contributions. She ensured comprehensive follow-up of all patients undergoing hematopoietic cell transplantation, identifying chronic health issues among the survivors. She developed multidisciplinary survivorship clinics for cancer survivors, providing these individuals with state-of-the-art comprehensive follow-up care in the setting of clinical research. Bhatia also furthered cancer etiology and outcomes by recruiting world-renowned investigators with the goal of reducing the burden of cancer across all segments of the population through collaborative, multidisciplinary initiatives.

“My research centers on understanding the burden of illnesses that cancer survivors face, identifying cancer survivors at the highest risk of treatment-related complications, and developing behavioral and pharmacological interventions to reduce this burden among cancer survivors,” said Bhatia. 

“The ultimate goal is to develop personalized treatments for cancer based on the individual risk of treatment-related complications, thus reducing the burden of morbidity among the cancer survivors."  
Some specific findings have been especially meaningful to Bhatia. Through her work, she discovered an increased risk of radiation-related breast cancer among girls exposed to chest radiation during adolescence for the treatment of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This resulted in a reduction in the dose of radiation used for managing Hodgkin’s lymphoma in girls during their teenage years. She is currently leading a multi-institutional trial to develop risk-reduction strategies for girls treated with chest radiation. She has identified the role of specific genes that interact with anthracycline chemotherapy in increasing the risk of heart failure in childhood cancer survivors. She has also demonstrated the critical role for adherence to oral chemotherapy in preventing relapse in children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and is now leading a national trial to enhance adherence to oral chemotherapy.

“The ultimate goal is to develop personalized treatments for cancer based on the individual risk of treatment-related complications, thus reducing the burden of morbidity among the cancer survivors,” said Bhatia.

One of Bhatia’s positions at UAB will be as co-director of the UAB Center for Outcomes and Effectiveness Research and Education. “We are extremely excited to have Smita Bhatia as part of our team as having her is such an important step forward in COERE’s and UAB’s efforts to stay at the forefront of cancer and outcomes research,” said Kenneth Saag, M.D., M.Sc., director of the COERE and Center for Education and Research on Therapeutics. “Smita will strengthen the collaborative partnership between the COERE and the Comprehensive Cancer Center, and be a resource that supports our trainees at all career levels, who will benefit tremendously from her extensive expertise and very successful research career.”  

Bhatia is a member of the American Society of Hematology, American Society of Clinical Oncology, American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, American Association of Cancer Research, American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation, and American Society for Clinical Investigation. In 2012, she was elected to the ASCO board of directors. She serves as the associate chair for the Children’s Oncology Group, coordinating survivorship research across 200 pediatric oncology institutions in the United States. She is the recipient of many awards and honors, including the Frank H. Oski Lectureship Award from the American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology to honor outstanding investigation in pediatric hematology/oncology. 

Bhatia has published more than 160 peer-reviewed articles in journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine, Journal of Clinical Oncology, Blood, Nature Cancer Reviews, Lancet, Lancet Oncology and Nature Genetics, among others. She has served on the editorial boards for Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention, Biology of Bone Marrow Transplantation, and Journal of Clinical Oncology, and also serves as the section editor for Cancer.

Bhatia has also served as principal investigator or co-investigator on substantial research grants funded by the National Institutes of Health, Leukemia Lymphoma Society and St. Baldrick’s Foundation, among others. She sits on several NIH /National Cancer Institute grant review panels and committees. 

Born in India, Bhatia received her medical degree from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in 1984 and completed fellowships in blood banking, pediatric hematology/oncology and bone marrow transplantation at the University of Minnesota. She also received a master’s degree in public health in epidemiology from the University of Minnesota.

She comes to UAB with her husband, Ravi Bhatia, M.D., who will be the new director of the UAB Division of Hematology and Oncology and the deputy director of the Cancer Center. “There are areas where our work overlaps, but we have plenty of work to do in our respective areas,” she said. “We were impressed by both the collegiality and the collaborative nature of the faculty at UAB and the vibrant children’s hospital.”

“Based on her outstanding record of accomplishment in cancer care and research, we believe that Smita will continue to identify and refine risk models, especially in health care disparities, and be a beacon of light to improve the outcomes for children with cancer,” said Cohen.