March 10, 2015 — Jonathon Cohen, M.D., vividly remembers the night he received his acceptance call from the University of Florida College of Medicine. Nearing completion of his undergraduate studies at Emory University, and a lifelong Florida sports fan raised by two UF alumni, he was finally becoming an “official” Gator.
“I was so excited to have been accepted to medical school, let alone at my first choice. I couldn’t have predicted at the time just how great an opportunity lay before me,” recalled Cohen, who graduated from the College of Medicine in 2007. “I still look back on the years I spent at UF as some of my best — personally and professionally.”
During his four years as a medical student, he married his wife Pam, MHS ’06, forged lasting friendships, watched the Gators win three national championships and traveled to California with classmates to run his first marathon. He studied under mentors who would help shape his career and, as a second-year student, discovered a passion for oncological care and research.
Today, his work developing new lymphoma treatments is receiving national recognition, including Emory’s Rising Star Award that honors the “most promising junior faculty member.” As assistant professor in Emory University’s department of hematology and medical oncology, he spends one full day in clinics caring for patients with Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The remainder of his week is dedicated to developing clinical trials on new treatments for lymphoma. Many of his patients qualify for these trials, which are among the first to evaluate novel drugs that have been used in limited instances — if at all.
As a principal investigator for his studies, Cohen manages a team of professionals including research coordinators, regulatory staff members and nurses and midlevel providers to ensure participants have the best experience possible and remain safe during their participation in the study. Historically, most lymphoma patients have been treated with combinations of chemotherapy that can have significant short-term and long-term side effects and result in a markedly decreased quality of life. As a result, his team focuses on investigating targeted therapies that may be more suited to an individual’s cancer, and often pose decreased side effects.
“We’re trying to better identify which patients have high-risk disease and will need intensive therapy,” Cohen said, “whereas other patients have a version of the disease that is more responsive to therapy and may not need such an aggressive approach. Many of the newer agents we’re investigating can be taken orally with much fewer side effects than standard chemotherapy.”
Using this individualized approach, Cohen hopes to reach a point where patients can receive personalized assessments that will allow physicians to make appropriate treatment decisions, based on a number of risk factors and the specific type of lymphoma.
“It’s personalized medicine tailored to each individual patient,” he explained. “It’s demonstrating really promising results and will be the best way to take care of patients in the future. There’s really never been a better time to pursue a career focusing on new types of therapies for lymphoma.”
During his time at UF, he took introduction to oncology with James Lynch Jr., M.D., professor of medicine and assistant dean of admissions. Cohen knew immediately he wanted to pursue the field. “Dr. Lynch really placed a lot of stock in the personal side of caring for patients. He taught me how to be professional but also to be appropriately invested in the quality of life of my patients – that’s something I’ve taken with me throughout my career.”
When it came time to choose a residency program, Cohen wrestled with the decision to apply to other schools. Eventually, he decided on The Ohio State University to complete his residency in internal medicine and subspecialty fellowship in hematology and oncology. As challenging as it was to leave Florida, he felt confident that his medical education prepared him to succeed at the next level.
“I’ve always been thankful that UF prepared me to hit the ground running as a resident, and I was quickly identified as a resident who could be relied upon to provide expert care for my patients. I owe that to the faculty and staff at UF,” he shared.
Cohen’s research is well received in the medical community with multiple accolades, and most recently, he was a finalist for the UF College of Medicine’s Outstanding Young Alumnus Award. He has been published in a number of journals and publications and was selected to lead a clinical trial for the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group, a national consortium of academic and community oncology centers sponsored by the National Cancer Institute.
In addition to his successful career as a researcher and clinician, he is the proud father of two children: Hannah, 6, and Alexander, 4. He and Pam enjoy exploring new eateries in Atlanta and traveling. Cohen has also taken up running again, and recently began training for the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta — a 10k he ran twice in medical school.
He has stayed in touch with several of his classmates, many of whom he met on his first day at orientation. While seeing patients, he often thinks back to professors like Lynch and Kyle Rarey, Ph.D., professor of anatomy and cell biology, who he fondly remembers as his encouragers and supporters — both during and after class.
“I consider myself fortunate to have trained at UF and am grateful to the faculty and curriculum for preparing me to have success early in my career,” Cohen said. “In the future, I hope to build on that success and be seen as a leader — not only in clinical care, but as an investigator who cared for and cured as many patients as I could.”