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Dr. Neal Meropol Joins Fox Chase Cancer Center to Head Gastrointestinal Cancer Programs

Along with developing new therapies for people with gastrointestinal cancer, he will work with Center gastroenterologists as the new director of the Gastrointestinal Tumor-Risk Assessment Program. For the past five years, Meropol was medical co-director of the gastrointestinal oncology clinic at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York.

"I've always been interested in the personal issues faced by patients confronting their mortality," he said in a recent interview. "I've done a lot of early-phase clinical trials, and this is where we need to better understand what the patients are going through."

In conjunction with collaborators at Georgetown University, he developed a model for understanding how patients choose high-risk therapies.

"We started to test the model by interviewing patients, their nurses and their doctors about their expectations regarding the potential benefits and side-effects of experimental therapy," explained Meropol. The study also includes a look at how quality of life affects a patient's decisions.

"What we're trying to understand is the patient's decision-making calculus, so we can learn better ways to approach patients and provide them with information about possible treatment options," he added. "Our aim is not to figure out ways to get people into clinical trials. Rather, I want to figure out the best way to approach different types of patients with different sets of vulnerabilities so that they are best served in making decisions."

Meropol has also done a lot of work in preventing side effects of chemotherapy and developing more tolerable treatments.

"I'm interested in new drugs to prevent chemotherapy side effects as well as in immunologic therapies, which would specifically target the cancerous tissue rather than the normal tissue," he said.

He is looking into using new types of therapies such as monoclonal antibodies and vaccines to help his efforts. In addition, he has developed several oral agents with effectiveness against gastrointestinal cancers.

For patients with pancreatic cancer, Meropol brings with him a clinical study of a vaccine developed at Roswell Park in conjunction with Dr. Jeff Schlom, chief of the National Cancer Institute's laboratory of tumor immunology and biology. The vaccine attempts to stimulate the immune system to recognize cancer cells with a protein that permits uncontrolled cell growth.

This abnormal protein results from a mutation in the ras gene. Normally the gene and its protein help regulate cell growth, but the mutant version is commonly associated with pancreatic and other cancers.

Another clinical study by Meropol uses a monoclonal antibody and two other biologic response modifiers, interleukin-2 and GM-CSF. This treatment holds promise for patients with colorectal and other adenocarcinomas.

He plans to launch additional new treatment studies at Fox Chase. "We'll be developing innovative programs that involve biologic therapies or chemotherapy combined with surgery and radiation," Meropol said.

Meropol earned his bachelor's degree in philosophy with honors at Princeton University followed by his M.D. at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1985. He received the Outstanding Performance as an intern in the department of medicine at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, where he also completed his residency.

After holding clinical and research fellowships in hematology and oncology at the University of Pennsylvania in 1992, Meropol joined the faculty of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and was appointed assistant professor in the department of medicine at State University of New York at Buffalo.

Meropol's hobbies include playing guitar. He and his wife, Sharon, have a son, Daniel, age 7, and daughter, Hannah, age 4.

Fox Chase Cancer Center is one of 34 National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer centers in the nation. The Center's activities include basic and clinical research, prevention, detection and treatment of cancer and community outreach programs.

Fox Chase Cancer Center, part of the Temple University Health System, is one of the leading cancer research and treatment centers in the United States. Founded in 1904 in Philadelphia as one of the nation’s first cancer hospitals, Fox Chase was also among the first institutions to be designated a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1974. Fox Chase researchers have won the highest awards in their fields, including two Nobel Prizes. Fox Chase physicians are also routinely recognized in national rankings, and the Center’s nursing program has received the Magnet recognition for excellence four consecutive times. Today, Fox Chase conducts a broad array of nationally competitive basic, translational, and clinical research, with special programs in cancer prevention, detection, survivorship, and community outreach.  For more information, call 1-888-FOX CHASE or (1-888-369-2427).

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