In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) is celebrating women scientists, physicians, philanthropic leaders, social workers, nurses, staff, and supporters at the front lines of the fight against blood cancer. From bolstering the early careers of researchers to helping scientists accelerate their discoveries from the lab to clinical trials, LLS is dedicated to supporting and recognizing women in science and all those who are advancing our mission.
As March is also Myeloma Awareness Month, LLS is taking this opportunity to spotlight three trailblazing women researchers who are driving forward pivotal work in myeloma. LLS is a champion for myeloma cures and care. But we can’t do our lifesaving work alone. Each day, researchers across the globe are racing to pioneer new discoveries and treatments. Currently, LLS is supporting 32 research projects focused on myeloma or relevant to all stages of the disease, totaling more than $41 million in multi-year funding. Whether advancing next-generation immunotherapies, studying the underlying drivers of disease, or working to overcome treatment resistance, our researcher community is leading a no-holds-barred fight against myeloma.
This International Women’s Day, get inspired by three women leaders in science who are myeloma research champions. Together, their work is changing the future of myeloma treatment and care and improving outcomes for patients.
Amanda Monteiro is a leukemia mom, volunteer, and Children's Initiative Ambassador for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), advocate for pediatric cancer research and palliative care, graduate student of clinical social work, and mother to Eleanor on earth and Edie in heaven.
Today is International Childhood Cancer Day, a day that had little significance for me less than four short years ago. In October 2017, I heard the words, “your child has cancer,” which I soon learned could only be eclipsed by, “there is nothing more we can do.”
I gave birth to my first child, a happy and healthy baby girl, on July 30th, 2016. Edie was born eyes wide open with a fear of missing out that was unparalleled. She challenged and surprised, enchanted and delighted us with each milestone she achieved. She commanded audiences with her sparkling blue eyes and infectious smile. She was directive and willful beyond her earthly age. I relished every moment. For 14 months, I lived blissfully ignorant of what life had in store for our family.
Our “Meet the Researcher” series on The LLS Blog shares what our outstanding LLS-funded researchers are working on, the incredible impact they’re making in the fight against blood cancer, and what inspires their efforts to find better treatments and cures.
To commemorate Black History Month, LLS is highlighting exceptional clinicians and healthcare professionals throughout the month of February. Dr. Rayne Rouce is a physician at Texas Children's Cancer Center where she is a member of the Leukemia/Lymphoma/Bone Marrow Transplant/Stem Cell Transplant Program. Dr. Rouce is board certified in pediatrics and pediatric hematology/oncology by the American Board of Pediatrics.
What is your area of expertise and/or what is the focus of your research?
I am a pediatric oncologist and physician scientist, and spend the majority of my time working on new ways to use the immune system to target and kill blood cancers (called “immunotherapy”). Specifically, my scientist colleagues and I genetically modify T cells (immune cells) with artificial receptors trained to kill proteins on the surface of cancer. I am extremely fortunate because this area of research has grown exponentially over the past 10 years, allowing new and less toxic treatment options for patients who previously would have been told they had no additional treatment options.
How will blood cancer patients benefit from your work?
Blood cancer is where we have had the most success with immunotherapy. In fact, based on really remarkable results, patients with difficult-to-treat B-cell leukemia and lymphoma can receive CAR (chimeric antigen receptor) T cells commercially, meaning without having to enroll in an investigational protocol. Immunotherapy has revolutionized the treatment of relapsed B-cell leukemia and lymphoma, and we are now trying to extend this therapy to patients with other types of blood cancers. There are so many clinical trials, many of which are supported by The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, that are testing immunotherapy treatments in patients with malignancies like non-Hodgkin lymphoma, acute myeloid leukemia (AML), T-cell lymphoblastic leukemia, and multiple myeloma. We are also working on developing immunotherapy treatments that can be made from healthy donors, thus immediately available to patients.
What inspired you to pursue a career in medicine?
I have always wanted to help people. I initially thought I wanted to be a psychiatrist, but once I did my first pediatric rotation in hematology/oncology, I immediately knew I had found my calling. What I love about my job is that I literally have the best of all worlds: I get to take care of patients and families during the most challenging times of their lives, and watch them overcome what seems like the impossible. On a daily basis, I’m surrounded by superheroes in the form of kids fighting cancer, and I get to work on finding new ways to safely kill cancer. I get to work with amazing doctors, nurses, scientists, and so many other healthcare workers and even organizations like LLS, with a common goal.
Why do you believe in the importance of diversity in healthcare?
Diversity in healthcare is key. Not only do we have a responsibility to provide culturally competent care to each and every patient we treat, we have a responsibility to ensure our healthcare teams mirror the diverse populations we serve. Diversity is not limited to race, ethnicity, and gender, but also extends to diversity of thought…diversity of experience. Enhancing diversity in healthcare won’t happen overnight, but small changes can result in huge impact on the pipeline of diverse students entering the healthcare profession. For example, in my role as Associate Director of Community Engagement at Baylor College of Medicine, we offer a number of programs for underrepresented minority K-12, undergrad, graduate, and post-grad students interested in healthcare careers.
How can the medical community and organizations engage more underrepresented groups?
There are a number of ways healthcare organizations can engage underrepresented groups! They can help raise awareness of diseases that disproportionately affect underrepresented groups, provide culturally competent education, and even partner with researchers/health professionals to enhance initiatives that benefit the pipeline of underrepresented healthcare workers.
In what capacity have you worked with LLS?
LLS has been an amazing constant throughout my training and career. I have worked as a junior investigator and investigator on LLS Specialized Center of Research grants, participated in community education initiatives hosted by LLS, including podcasts, blogs, and community forums, spoken at LLS Light the Night events, and been involved in countless other initiatives. LLS has been extremely supportive of my research, my patients/their families and my community advocacy efforts.
To learn more about how LLS is addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion across every aspect of our mission, please click here.