Dr. Johnnie Orozco selected to participate in American Society of Hematology faculty development program
The American Society of Hematology has announced Dr. Johnnie J. Orozco, a clinical research associate in the Fred Hutch lab of Dr. Oliver Press, as a participant in the 2015 ASH–Harold Amos Medical Faculty Development Program. The program is designed to increase the number of underrepresented-minority scholars in the field of hematology.
“There are a lot of people in this country that feel that diversifying your cadre of researchers is an important goal,” Orozco said. The son of immigrants, Orozco grew up in what he calls “Little Mexico” — Los Angeles — and did not learn English until third grade. “It’s validating to hear that they [the program sponsors] believe in my abilities, my potential and the impact of this work.”
The award, the result of a partnership between ASH and the Harold Amos Medical Faculty Development Program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, grants Orozco four years of support and a total of $420,000 in funding. But “the most valuable part,” Orozco said, is the access to numerous “high-power” program-affiliated mentors across the country. Orozco’s assigned program mentors are Dr. Arturo Molina, an adjunct professor of hematology at City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center and a vice president at Johnson & Johnson, and Dr. Griffin Rodgers, the director of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, a branch of the National Institutes of Health.
“Many of the mentors in this program are underrepresented minorities who have also addressed the hurdles often faced by investigators from underrepresented backgrounds and will help me overcome them when I face them, too,” Orozco said. “I feel fortunate to have such a rich source of mentors.”
Through this program, Orozco will study a novel approach for the transplantation of blood-forming stem cells. These transplants are often the only option for a cure for many patients with blood cancers, but current transplantation methods are highly toxic and not 100 percent effective.
Orozco’s research will test the potential of using targeted radioactive molecules — instead of highly toxic full-body irradiation — to prepare the body to receive a stem cell transplant. By targeting radioactive isotopes to the bone marrow only, he hopes to lessen some of the toxicity associated with pre-transplant conditioning.
He will study his targeted radiotherapy in the context of haploidentical, or partially matched, transplantation, in which transplant donor and recipient do not share all of the genetic markers used for matching. Haploidentical transplantation is particularly important for the many people of racial and ethnic minorities who are in need of a transplant but cannot find a fully matched donor among the disproportionately non-Hispanic white donors in transplant registries.
The ultimate goal of this research, Orozco wrote in his application to the program, is to “help define future therapeutic interventions to improve outcomes for patients with cancers of the blood.”
Orozco is one of two 2015 awardees, along with Dr. Jacqueline C. Barrientos of Hofstra North Shore-Long Island Jewish School of Medicine/The Feinstein Institute of Medical Research, who will study Richter’s syndrome.
“By supporting hematologists like Drs. Barrientos and Orozco through the ASH-AMFDP program, ASH aims to develop diverse leaders that will help move hematology forward,” said ASH President David A. Williams in a statement.