December Physician of the Month: Beth Christian

Beth Christian

Medical school was the gift that kept on giving for Beth Christian, MD.

“It was fascinating. I loved every rotation and was interested in everything I learned and wanted to do everything,” says Christian, who attended The Ohio State University College of Medicine.

Of course, it’s not possible for one doctor to do everything—even one as motivated as Christian. Eventually, she’d have to focus on a more specific area of medicine, especially since Christian wanted to add a research component to her clinical practice.

This led Christian to internal medicine, then oncology with a specialty in hematology (blood cancers) that eventually morphed into an expertise in lymphoma. Christian sees patients in The James’ lymphoma clinic, does extensive research and runs clinical trials that are improving treatment options. She is also an associate professor and The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute’s (OSUCCC – James) Physician of the Month for December.

“The thing I love the most”

“I was talking to an attending physician, and he told me about a patient he’d been seeing for 20 years and the close relationship they’d developed over all this time,” says Christian, who was determined to make that type of connection an important part of her practice.

“Seeing my patients in clinic is my number one priority—the thing I love the most,” Christian says, adding that she’s developed long-term relationships with many of her patients and their family members “during very critical and often stressful periods in their lives.”

What is lymphoma?

Lymphoma is a common type of blood cancer that starts in the infection-fighting cells of the body’s immune system. There are two primary types: Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s. In both, the cancer starts in white blood cells called lymphocytes. If microscopic examination of the cancer cells detects the abnormal Reed-Sternberg cell, it is Hodgkin’s lymphoma. If Reed-Sternberg is not present—as is the case in the majority of lymphoma diagnoses—it’s Non-Hodgkin’s.

Leading trials to improve treatment

“The focus of my research and clinical trials is to help develop new treatment options,” says Christian, who leads trials initiated at other major cancer centers and the National Cancer Institute. Christian has also been the primary investigator for new trials that she developed at The James, including a current study that’s showing great promise.

“We are combining three drugs (obinutuzumab, lenalidomide and venetoclax) that have already been approved for treating lymphoma to determine if they’re more effective when combined. These are targeted treatments—traditional chemotherapy kills cancer cells and non-cancer cells, but these drugs target and destroy specific proteins found on the cancer cells.

“This trial is for patients who have already received standard treatment options that either didn’t work or who have had a relapse. This type of research and these clinical trials are very exciting, but in the end, what makes them so exciting and so important is that when it all comes together you can improve the outcomes for your patients, and that’s the most important thing,” Christian says.

Learning from the past, teaching the future

As Christian’s role as a member of the OSUCCC – James’ dedicated hematology team grows, she continues to embrace The James’ culture of collaboration—as a mentor and mentee.

“I feel very fortunate to be here at The James,” Christian says. “We have so many great people and scientists, and I’ve had so many amazing mentors. And now, hopefully I’m moving into the mentorship role.”

Christian and her husband Todd, an engineer, have two soccer-playing daughters who keep them quite busy.