A Conversation with Pinkal Desai, M.D.

We are pleased to introduce our newest EIPM Member Pinkal Desai, M.D.

Dr. Desai is an Assistant Professor of Medicine in the WCM Hematology and Medical Oncology Department and is the Charles, Lillian, and Betty Neuwirth Clinical Scholar in Oncology, and Clinical Director of the EIPM Molecular Aging Institute.

We hope you enjoy learning more about her research interests.

Q: Can you please tell our readers about your work?

Pinkal Desai, M.D.

A: My research interests are in the fields of aging and clonal hematopoiesis in context of both solid and hematological malignancies. My expertise is in the clinical care of patients with myeloid disorders and clinical follow up of patients with clonal hematopoiesis.

I serve as principal investigator and co-investigator of numerous investigator-initiated and industry-sponsored clinical trials. In addition, I have a background in epidemiology and have a strong research interest in the epidemiology of hematological malignancies, particularly in field of preventative strategies in hematological malignancies. I have strong collaborations with population cohorts, epidemiologists as well as basic scientists who are focused on translational research in hematologic malignancies.

Q: What makes your research unique? Can you share with us some recent findings? 

A: My research uniquely combines my experiences in oncology with molecular epidemiology and population sciences. Understanding the process of aging and clonal hematopoiesis (CH) as risk factors for cancer incidence and morbidity, with a goal of creating preventative strategies for hematological malignancies is of major interest to me and to the EIPM. We recently published our work in Nature Medicine establishing for the first time, a pre-malignant state in Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). This has led to accelerated interest in understanding the factors that lead to progression from CH to AML.

Q: What excites you about your work? 

A: Understanding CH and molecular aging has immediate implications for patients. This research will lead to the development of monitoring and intervention strategies and enable continued development of prevention clinics focused on CH and other factors that may affect disease predisposition. The impact of this work has major implications in cardiovascular risk as well, which is known to be associated with CH. Cancer and CVD are a major research focus for EIPM and this line of work will combine a cross pollination of both these fields.

Q: When thinking about your research, what are some recent breakthroughs that are propelling the field forward? How will they impact healthcare and patient care in the future? 

A: The identification of a molecularly defined premalignant state in AML, a decade before the onset of AML, has been a major breakthrough in understanding the pathobiology of AML and its progression. Inflammatory pathways have been shown to be activated in individuals with CH. A comprehensive understanding of all factors that contribute to the progression to hematological malignancies would have a major impact on monitoring these patients and creating unique patient-specific interventions.

Q: What are the short-term challenges that your scientific field is facing? 

Pinkal Desai, M.D.

A: Creating a prospective cohort of patients at risk is a major undertaking and we are uniquely positioned to achieve this. We are applying what we learn from already established long term cohorts to patients here at WCM. As Clinical Director of Molecular Aging at EIPM, this is one of my major priorities.

Q: Can you please tell us how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected your work and personal life? 

A: The COVID pandemic has certainly impacted each one of us. My family and myself contracted the virus, so this certainly hit home. Luckily we all survived.

On the work front, I have adapted to a new world of patient care with remote monitoring and heightened screening. Both clinical and laboratory research were impacted in the short term.

I am encouraged to see how the research and clinical community rose up to the challenge and continued both efforts.

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