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Ohio State announces passing of leukemia scientist Clara Bloomfield

Bloomfield is well known for her more than 50 years of groundbreaking research in blood cancers

The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) has announced the passing of Dr. Clara D. Bloomfield, a Distinguished University Professor at The Ohio State University and a former director and longtime senior adviser to the OSUCCC – James. Bloomfield died Sunday at the age of 77.

Bloomfield is well known for her more than 50 years of groundbreaking research in blood cancers, particularly acute myeloid leukemia (AML). She revolutionized science-based, personalized treatment for patients with these diseases. Her work led to genetics being included in the diagnosis of acute leukemias in the 2001 World Health Organization (WHO) classification, and in the most widely adopted clinical practice guidelines in oncology: those of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.

“Ohio State’s cancer program is fortunate to have benefited from Dr. Bloomfield’s scholarly expertise and leadership skills for so many years,” said Dr. Raphael Pollock, director of the OSUCCC. “She will be remembered as a pioneer in the study of hematologic malignancies — particularly acute myeloid leukemia — whose research led to breakthroughs that have improved treatments and enhanced quality of life for many patients with these diseases.”

Bloomfield came to Ohio State in 1997 to serve initially as director of the OSUCCC and deputy director of The James before assuming her most recent advisory role in 2003. She’ll be especially remembered for her pioneering research that helped transform adult AML from a deadly disease to one that’s often cured. She and her colleagues made several discoveries that contributed to this turnaround in AML prognosis.

“The cancer community has lost a great friend and leader, a true pioneer in her field. We are all saddened by this loss,” said Dr. Hal Paz, executive vice president and chancellor for health affairs at Ohio State and CEO of the Wexner Medical Center. “The James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute would not be the fine institution it is today without the many trailblazing contributions made by Dr. Bloomfield.”

Bloomfield was the first to prove that adults with acute leukemia, including the elderly, could be cured with chemotherapy. She also demonstrated that biomarkers, including chromosomal abnormalities, can be used to select treatment and predict outcome in adults with acute leukemia and lymphoma, a forerunner to personalized or precision medicine.

Bloomfield first identified several now-classic chromosome changes in leukemia and lymphoma, such as the Philadelphia chromosome in acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and the rearrangement of 16q22 in AML. She was considered by most to be the world’s authority on how chromosome changes influence treatment and outcome in adult acute leukemia.

“She will be remembered as a pioneer in the study of hematologic malignancies — particularly acute myeloid leukemia — whose research led to breakthroughs that have improved treatments and enhanced quality of life for many patients with these diseases.”
Dr. Raphael Pollock, director of the OSUCCC

The quality and importance of Bloomfield’s work are reflected in her decades of continuous NIH funding as principal investigator, her authorship of multiple review articles and chapters in leading textbooks, and in more than 600 peer-reviewed original research articles she authored or co-authored in major scientific journals. She frequently lectured at national and international meetings.

Bloomfield also made extensive contributions to many professional organizations. She served on the board of directors of both the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) and the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), and she chaired the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Division of Cancer Treatment Board of Scientific Counselors. She was one of three chairs of the NCI Progress Review Group responsible for defining the national research agenda for leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma.

Bloomfield was elected as a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences (now the National Academy of Medicine), as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and as a Fellow of the AACR Academy, each for her groundbreaking and clinically impactful work in hematologic malignancies. In addition, she won multiple national and international awards, including the Henry M. Stratton Medal from the American Society of Hematology and the David A. Karnofsky Memorial Award from the ASCO. Most recently she received the European LeukemiaNet (ELN) Merit Award for contributions to international integration of leukemia research.

“I knew Dr. Bloomfield throughout her many years at Ohio State, and I always found her to be a forward-thinking and exceptionally talented medical scientist, administrator and mentor,” said Dr. William B. Farrar, CEO of the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute. “Through her leadership, our cancer program achieved global acclaim that has continued to grow as we pursue our vision of a cancer-free world.”

Bloomfield was inspired by her parents Zelda Derber (feminist and lawyer) and Milton Derber (world-class labor economist) to pursue excellence relentlessly, and she channeled this passion into academic medicine. She earned her MD at the University of Chicago in 1968 and then trained in internal medicine and medical oncology at the University of Minnesota before joining the faculty and quickly becoming a full professor. In 1989 she became professor and chair of the Department of Medicine at Roswell Park Cancer Institute and chief of the Division of Oncology at the State University of New York at Buffalo before joining Ohio State in 1997.

At Ohio State, Bloomfield also held the William Greenville Pace III Endowed Chair in Cancer Research and initially served as director of the Division of Hematology-Oncology in the College of Medicine.

Bloomfield relentlessly advanced women in science and medicine through her active mentorship and leadership, by serving as a role model and through advocating university policy guidelines on equal employment and advancement for women faculty. She was the first woman to chair the NCI Division of Cancer Treatment Board of Scientific Counselors, one of the first female department of medicine chairs (Roswell Park Cancer Institute) and one of the first female NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center directors (Ohio State). She mentored more than 100 women who have served as professors at prestigious universities or as scientists in leadership positions at the NCI or in industry.

A ceremony paying tribute to Bloomfield and her work is being planned for the near future.

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