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The passing of Professor Clara D. Bloomfield: a revolutionary, advancing the understanding of acute myeloid leukemia

Mar 9, 2020

Professor Clara D. Bloomfield passed away on March 2, 2020 at the age of 77, after contributing over 50 years of her life to groundbreaking research in hematological cancers. Her research was hugely influential in acute myeloid leukemia (AML), where she introduced the concept of personalizing medicine.

In 1968, Bloomfield obtained an MD from the The University of Chicago, before training in internal medicine and medical oncology at the University of Minnesota, where she quickly advanced to a full professor. In 1989, she became professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Oncologyat the The State University of New York at Buffalo, as well as chair of the Division of Medicineat Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

Bloomfield then obtained a position at The Ohio State University, where she served as a university professor and was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciencesin 2000. During her time at the university, she stood as a longstanding senior adviser and director to the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James).

Alongside her primary positions, Bloomfield made contributions to many professional organizations, including, but not limited to, American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), and the National Cancer Institute (NCI)division of cancer treatment. Bloomfield pioneered women in science and became the first woman appointed as chair to the NCI Division of Cancer Treatment Board of Scientific Counselors. Furthermore, she was one of the first female chairs for the department of medicine, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, and one of the first female directors at the NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. Bloomfield was a founding member of the AML Hub, where she served as co-chair and honorary chair.

Bloomfield impacted the lives of people with AML worldwide, being among the first clinicians to show that AML could be cured in adults and the elderly with chemotherapy. Throughout her remarkable career, she uncovered the role of genetic abnormalities as biomarkers in hematological cancers. Not only did she discover the Philadelphia chromosome in acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), but also the rearrangement of 16q22 in AML. Today, Bloomfield’s work allows mutation-directed therapeutic targeting; her research has revolutionized personalized and precision medicine.

The importance of Bloomfield’s work is reflected by the numerous prestigious awards she received during her career. Most recently, she won the European LeukemiaNet (ELN) Merit Award for contributions to international integration of leukemia research. Before this, she received the Henry M. Stratton Medal from the American Society of Hematology (ASH)and the David A. Karnofsky Memorial Award from the ASCO.

 “Clara Bloomfield’s pioneering work played a pivotal role establishing the importance of cytogenetic and molecular classification systems in the management of acute myeloid leukemia. Her work established the foundations for risk stratification models which form the basis of current treatment algorithms and the concept that these should inform treatment decisions. Clara was endlessly generous in encouraging younger clinician scientists and her encouragement and support was of great importance in the training of innumerable practicing clinical academics and triallists, in whom her legacy lives on.”

Professor Charles Craddock, Co-Chair European SC and Global SC member,  Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, UK.

“I was shocked and saddened to learn of Clara’s untimely passing. She was a formidable force in the field of acute myeloid leukemia and spent her career working tirelessly to optimize classification and treatment strategies in this terrible disease. She implemented and directed the collection of tissue samples to facilitate extensive correlative and translational scientific studies, and her efforts will continue to advance the field for decades to come. On a personal note, I am grateful for her support throughout my career.”

Professor Gail J. Roboz,   Weill Cornell Medicine, New York, US

"Clara made a huge contribution in the field of AML therapy and biology, which will never be forgotten. She contributed enormously to numerous international scientific organizations. She was a great supporter of the ELN and paved the way for the ELN AML recommendations, nowadays accepted as a gold standard. Without doubt, we will remember forever her enthusiasm in promoting science and research and her capacity to stimulate young researchers and hematologists. We are losing a great personality and dear friend."

Professor Gert OssenkoppeleVU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, NE

“A high priority of Clara’s over the last 20 years was her international work, particularly within the European LeukemiaNet (ELN) and the International Association of Comparative Research on Leukemia and Related Disorders (IACRLRD). The ELN recommendations for AML and the international panel of experts very much carry her handwriting. I met Clara first in Heidelberg in 1997 when she was invited as a speaker to the IACRLRD-symposium which I organized. She became President of the Association a few years later, then Secretary General in my succession and was a mainstay of the IACRLRD-World Committee until now. Likewise, she supported ELN as few other people did. It was obvious that she liked ELN and IACRLRD for their international cooperations. Clara was small in stature but a giant in mind, explaining why her friends at Ohio State called her our little great lady (which she commented with a smile).”

Professor Rüdiger Hehlmann, European LeukemiaNet (ELN),Weinheim, DE

A final remark from  Dr Hal Paz, executive vice president and chancellor for health affairs at Ohio State University: “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.”