An essential component of the UF Health Cancer Center’s mission is conducting clinical research that directly impacts patients by delivering new and promising cancer treatments. The Cancer Center’s innovative clinical research, funded in part through the state of Florida, includes developing and implementing cancer clinical trials that bring opportunities for patients in Florida and beyond to access new cancer treatments. This leading-edge research ensures the Cancer Center provides patient care that meets the needs of the rural and diverse population it serves and contributes to advancing scientific progress for future patients.
Erin Dean, M.D., an assistant professor in the division of hematology and oncology in the department of medicine in the UF College of Medicine, is one of the clinical investigators at the Cancer Center who has dedicated her career to developing better treatments for patients with lymphoma and multiple myeloma, particularly those undergoing cellular immunotherapy and stem cell transplantation.
Dean earned her medical degree from the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine in Tampa, where she also completed her residency in internal medicine. While there, she was recognized with the Chairman’s Humanism Award for consistently demonstrating compassion, respect and empathy in the delivery of patient-centered care and service to others. Dean completed her fellowship in hematology and oncology, followed by a dedicated additional year of training in blood and marrow transplant and cellular immunotherapy at Moffitt Cancer Center. Given her expertise and distinction, she was recruited to join the UF faculty and UF Health Cancer Center.
Dean’s clinical research focuses on advancing cellular immunotherapy and developing new biomedical technology to help patients with blood cancers. She is involved in leading clinical trials and conducting translational research in the field.
“My goal is to provide outstanding clinical care for patients with lymphoma and multiple myeloma undergoing cellular immunotherapy and stem cell transplantation,” Dean said. “These types of treatments are generally available only at large academic centers like UF Health and can lead to long-lasting responses paired with improved quality of life compared to more conventional treatments.”
Mortality rates for blood cancers, including lymphoma, are higher in the 23-county area the Cancer Center serves than they are in the rest of the state and in the United States. From 2013 to 2017, the incidence of hematologic malignancies was 40.5 per 100,000 people and the mortality rate was 15.6 per 100,000 people in the area the Cancer Center serves.
Dean’s research aims to address the medical needs of patients affected by blood cancers. She is the principal investigator at UF on several clinical trials investigating the next generation of cellular immunotherapy treatment. CAR T-cell therapy is a type of immunotherapy treatment in which a patient’s own immune cells are modified in a lab to allow them to better target cancer. Several different CAR T-cell therapies have become approved by the Food and Drug Administration for patients with relapsed or refractory lymphomas and multiple myeloma.
“The success of these treatments has been astonishing and has pointed us in a new direction with respect to eliminating cancer,” Dean said. “By investigating products made from healthy immune cells other than the patient’s, we aim to create quick-to-administer therapies that make it easier for patients to undergo treatment without the need to collect their own immune cells and wait for manufacturing of the final product. New cellular immunotherapies available through clinical trials also have different constructs, targets and mechanism of action, which we hope will result in a higher efficacy and better safety profile than existing treatments.”
Dean and her collaborators are also working to make these therapies safer for patients by designing new technologies to monitor potential adverse events. Dean is also conducting a preclinical study investigating a new blood marker in patients with multiple myeloma. The goal is to detect cancer more easily and earlier than with standard procedures.
“At the UF Health Cancer Center, we aim to make cutting-edge testing, treatments and safety monitoring available to patients with blood cancers to improve their medical journey and overall health.”Erin Dean, M.D., Assistant Professor, Division of Hematology and Oncology, University of Florida College of Medicine
Support from the state of Florida through the Casey DeSantis Cancer Research Act (Fla. Stat. § 381.915) has been critical to the Cancer Center’s recruitment and retention of rising stars in cancer clinical research. Dean is an example of a cancer physician and scientist who is developing and bringing forward new therapies for patients in Florida and beyond. The program was established to enhance the quality and competitiveness of cancer care in Florida, further a statewide biomedical research strategy, and capitalize on the educational opportunities. Through this program, the state provides funding to Florida cancer centers that have achieved designation from the National Cancer Institute and those working to achieve the designation.