Saul Yanovich, M.D., a nationally know leader in blood and marrow transplantation, has been named clinical director of the Blood and Marrow Transplantation (BMT) Program at the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center (UMGCC). Dr. Yanovich, a hematologist and medical oncologist, also joins the faculty of the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Dr. Yanovich comes from Georgetown University’s Lombardi Cancer Center, where he was the medical director for the Bone Marrow Transplant Program. Prior to Georgetown, Dr. Yanovich was the director of the Medical College of Virginia’s Bone Marrow Transplantation Unit. He is well published in the field and very active in clinical research. A graduate of Javeriana University School of Medicine in Bogota, Colombia, Dr. Yanovich completed his medical residency and a hematology fellowship at the University of Miami Hospitals. He also completed an oncology research fellowship at the Dana Farber Cancer Center Institute of Harvard Medical School in Boston.
At UMGCC, Dr. Yanovich will lead the outstanding team of physicians and patient care professionals in further developing the well-known BMT program. Here Dr. Yanovich discusses his philosophy and goals for the BMT program at UMGCC.
What attracted you to come to the University of Maryland?
The opportunity to head a well-known BMT program and to work with an excellent group of physicians and patient care professionals was the primary attraction for me to come to Maryland. The Greenebaum Cancer Center has a tradition of excellence and a strong commitment to state-of-the-art therapy and the highest standards in patient care. These are the factors that create an environment that leads to the best possible outcomes for patients. I’m also very much looking forward to joining in the outstanding translational research going on here.
What are your goals for the UMGCC’s Blood and Marrow Transplant Program?
I want to further develop and expand the already successful program we have here. The key component of that effort is a supportive, caring environment for patients, staffed by a team of medical care professionals who are accessible 24-hours-a-day. This must be an institution-wide effort. My goal is to provide a warm, friendly environment where patients feel respected, where each patient is treated like a person and not a number, and where their family members can feel welcome.
The transplant process involves destroying a patient’s blood cells, and then building them back up following high-dose chemotherapy or radiation. A transplant patient undergoes a period of extreme vulnerability when the immune system is suppressed before the new blood cells take effect. A successful transplant team includes clinical and support services to help patients through this critical time. Patient must know that when they come to our unit, the hospital has every resource readily available in case it is needed, and that we will do everything within our power to care for them.
University of Maryland is known for its multidisciplinary approach to patient care. How does this type of care apply in the area of BMT?
Being a large, academic medical center, UMGCC is able to provide comprehensive treatment for transplant patients. The care team includes medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, nurses, nutritionists, pathologists, social workers, and many others. Once patients are stabilized following their transplant, they usually return to the care of their primary care doctor or oncologist, coming back to UMGCC for regular checkups to monitor their progress. The new Ambulatory Center, (the Leonard & Roslyn Stoler Pavilion, planned to open this year), will provide a very accessible, dedicated area for transplant patients who come in for follow-up visits. They’ll be able to see all of their care providers conveniently in one place.
Are there any new uses for transplantation, or new techniques for delivering this form of treatment?
Blood and bone marrow transplantation is now being used to treat patients with several forms of cancer, diseases of the blood such as leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma, as well as certain metabolic disorders and some autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis. Autologous bone marrow transplants (using a patient’s own bone marrow) used to have a very high mortality rate. In the past 15 years, there have been tremendous changes in the way transplants are done. Stem cell transplantation has become much safer in recent years, and the mortality rate has dropped to about 1%.
How important is community outreach in your plans to expand the BMT program?
Patients typically come to a BMT transplant program through a referral from their own physicians. One of my priorities will be to go out into the community and meet with oncologists and primary care doctors to familiarize them with what we have to offer in terms of our center’s services and capabilities. By working in partnership with referring physicians and being very accessible to them at all times, we can foster relationships that will allow us to reach more communities and make these very specialized, life-saving transplantation services available to more patients throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.
What plans do you have for expanding clinical research in BMT?
Clinical trials are the way that new therapies are developed and evaluated, and allow us to provide more treatment options for patients. All advances in patient care come from clinical trials. The BMT program here is currently involved in 25 clinical trials, bringing together clinical oncologists and laboratory investigators to develop better treatments for cancer. I would like to increase the number of trials we offer to patients, and continue to expand our collaborations with other medical centers and national clinical research groups such as the Cancer and Leukemia Group B (CALGB) to continue to work towards finding better treatments for cancer.
Were you aware of the State of Maryland’s Cigarette Restitution Fund (CRF) and the dedicated funding it provides for cancer research? Did this have any effect on your decision to come to Maryland?
The CRF funding has been important in facilitating cutting-edge cancer research. Maryland has been very fortunate that its CRF funds have been directed primarily toward cancer and health-related initiatives, unlike many other states, which have used the funds for other priorities such as highway construction projects and to balance budgets. Everyone involved with cancer research hopes that the funds will continue to be available to keep this important work moving ahead.
To contact Dr. Yanovich, please call 410-328-7904.