Leading authority in cancer treatment, research to chair UF's department of medicine

Robert Hromas, M.D.

An international authority in blood cancers, such as leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma, has been named the new chair of the UF College of Medicine’s department of medicine, according to an announcement Wednesday by Michael Good, M.D., dean of the college.

Robert Hromas, M.D., a leader in translating research into the discovery of new cancer drugs, will become chairman of medicine effective Feb. 14, 2011, Good said.

“The UF College of Medicine continues to draw nationally and internationally recognized physician-scientists to its leadership team,” Good said. “I am pleased to announce that Dr. Hromas has agreed to serve our patients, faculty, students and staff as chair of the department of medicine.”

A professor and the chief of hematology-oncology at the University of New Mexico, Hromas also is the deputy director of the UNM Cancer Center — the official cancer center of New Mexico and one of only 66 National Cancer Institute-designated centers in the United States.

“Dr. Hromas will be a tremendous asset to our academic health center,” said David S. Guzick, M.D., Ph.D., UF’s senior vice president for health affairs and president of the UF&Shands Health System. “The department of medicine plays a central role in all that we do across our missions and we are thrilled that Dr. Hromas will be at its helm, given his record of achievement, commitment to excellence, energy level and collaborative spirit.”

Hromas will complement the cutting-edge research that takes place at the UF Shands Cancer Center, said Paul Okunieff, M.D., director of the UF Shands Cancer Center.

“He has a tremendous background in molecular genetics and DNA repair, which will create synergies with our epigenetics researchers,” Okunieff said. “He also does drug design in silico, which is a way to produce and screen cancer drug candidates through computer simulations. We have scientists working in that area as well. In addition, he can take the next step and do the translational work to determine whether an in silico drug discovery works in a biological system to actually shrink cancer.”

Hromas recently cloned and characterized a novel DNA repair protein that plays a crucial role in both chemotherapy resistance and in HIV integration. He has created new drugs that target this protein and is testing them for effectiveness in treating cancers resistant to chemotherapy.

“He is a rare quadruple talent,” Okunieff said. “As an administrator, scientist, visionary leader, clinician — he does it all well, and is well-regarded for it.”

As deputy director of the UNM Cancer Center, Hromas oversees clinical and translational research and supervises clinical inpatient and outpatient oncology operations.

He takes the reins of a department in the College of Medicine that, under the leadership of retiring chair Edward R. Block, M.D., was distinguished academically and clinically, with five specialties being named among the top 50 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report —gastroenterology, kidney disorders, cardiovascular medicine, pulmonary medicine, and hematology and oncology.

“The quality of the faculty, the alignment of strategic efforts across the UF and Shands medical center, the close proximity to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and the superb genetics research going on — all of those things are extremely impressive,” Hromas said. “The leadership of Dr. Good was another important attraction. I hope to build on the department’s accomplishments and support the goals of Dr. Good in creating the next generation of therapy for our patients at Shands.”

Hromas graduated from medical school at the University of Texas at Houston, where he was named the Outstanding Student in Internal Medicine.

“In medical school I decided I wanted to work with complex problems, and I wanted to find answers to those problems. That turned me toward cancer,” Hromas said. “Cancer is one such problem. It is not one disease, but hundreds of different diseases. The intriguing thing is we are beginning to see the molecular basis of these diseases. Our generation of scientists will be able to exploit these for treatment. I think we are ready to make some real advances.”

He trained in blood cancers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center with the Nobel Laureate Don Thomas, and then joined the faculty at Indiana University Medical Center for 13 years before going to UNM.

He has published more than 120 research articles, including a recent study in the American Journal of Medicine that the new cancer drug Gleevec was being prescribed less often for elderly patients with chronic myeloid leukemia than for younger patients. Age discrimination in the use of Gleevec resulted in an increased death rate for elderly patients with this cancer, he said. This finding added to the national debate about age discrimination in cancer treatment, and was covered in multiple media outlets.

He said he hopes such findings will prompt physicians to prescribe revolutionary new cancer drugs for their elderly patients because, in the Gleevec example, these drugs help more than harm.

Hromas holds over $3.5 million in cancer research grants, and has numerous national medical and scientific leadership positions. He has chaired grant review committees for the National Institutes of Health and for the American Cancer Society. He has served on the Lance Armstrong Foundation Scientific Board. He has been elected to the American Society of Clinical Investigation, an honor society for physician-scientists. He has won multiple teaching and patient care awards, including the Indiana University Board of Regents Teacher of the Year and the New Mexico People Caring Award.