Dr. Richard Goldberg Hosts Doctor from Azerbaijan, Spreading The James’ Innovation

Richard Goldberg and visiting doctor Narmin Talibova

The treatment available to cancer patients is quite different (and less advanced) in many countries than it is in the United States.

“We do not have any immunotherapy or targeted therapy,” said Narmin Talibova, MD, an oncology resident at the National Oncology Center in Baku, Azerbaijan. “We are not as advanced with stem cell transplants for leukemia treatment.”

Clinical trials are rare in Azerbaijan and “they lag behind in drugs,” said Yvonne Efebera, MD, MPH, Associate Professor, Division of Hematology at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James). “An FDA-approved drug can take 10 years before it’s used there. If a patient wants a newer drug, they have to come to the United States or Europe.”

Dr. Talibova recently spent a few days at the OSUCCC – James and was able to see the other end of the cancer-care spectrum.

“It is amazing here, everything is so advanced,” she said.

Dr. Talibova was able to visit the OSUCC – James through the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s International Development and Education Award (IDEA) program. The program “provides support for early-career oncologists in low- and middle-income countries and … pairs IDEA recipients with a leading ASCO member mentor” at the top cancer centers in the United States and Canada, according to the society.

Richard Goldberg, MD, served as Dr. Talibova’s mentor, with help from Dr. Efebera. Dr. Goldberg is the physician-in-chief at the OSUCCC – James and one of the world’s leading gastrointestinal and colorectal cancer doctors. Dr. Efebera’s expertise is in blood cancers.

Dr. Talibova was a bit star struck.

“I have done research and read many of his papers,” she said of Dr. Goldberg. “He is amazing, one of the best.”

Dr. Goldberg has been an ASCO mentor in the past, hosting oncologists from Nepal, Turkey, Cambodia, Vietnam and Costa Rica when he was at the University of North Carolina’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. He is an ASCO Fellow, a distinction that honors members for their volunteer service, dedication and commitment to the organization.

“It’s important to show doctors from other countries that aren’t as wealthy or as technically advanced as we are what we can do here,” Dr. Goldberg said of why he’s involved in the IDEA program. “It’s an eye-opener for them.”

And it can also lead to advances in patient care in these countries.

“We’re trying to erase borders and help patients everywhere get better access and care,” Dr. Goldberg said.

Dr. Talibova’s visit included a tour of the Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center. She also spent time with several doctors during their clinic hours and sat in when they met with patients; sat in on a Phase I/II clinical trial meeting; toured several departments and labs of the OSUCCC – James, including the Hematology and Transplant Center; and spent an afternoon with Dr. Goldberg in his clinic.

“We’re keeping her busy,” Dr. Goldberg said.

Dr. Talibova’s visit to Dr. Goldberg’s clinic began in the office he shares with his team.

“Have you seen our medical records system?” he asked. The answer was no, so Dr. Goldberg walked Dr. Talibova through the online system.

“We have all the lab notes, all the imaging right here,” he said as he scrolled through several of the images of a patient’s tumor. “We have all the surgery notes, all the treatment notes.”

Dr. Goldberg explained that the cancer of the patient whose file they were looking at had spread to her lungs. He said he’s optimistic a new drug administered through a Phase I trial showed promise and would talk to the patient about enrolling in the trial.

Dr. Talibova asked a few questions and took notes, absorbing all the information from her mentor. Once she understood all the pertinent information about the patient, Dr. Goldberg and Dr. Talibova walked over to a nearby examining room to meet with the woman and two of her friends.

Dr. Goldberg explained the Phase I trial to his patient, and then answered all of the questions she and her caregivers asked. Again, Dr. Talibova listened intently.

There was a sense of optimism in the room, and the woman was enthusiastic about the trial.

“In the United States, the patients are so smart and have so much information and are so optimistic,” Dr. Talibova said, adding this isn’t the case in Azerbaijan. “A lot of patients in my country don’t have any information at all. And many times the husband will say, ‘don’t tell my wife she has cancer, just treat her.’”

When she returns to Azerbaijan and the National Oncology Center, Dr. Talibova will bring back what she learned at the OSUCCC – James.

“I will meet with others and tell them what I learned; I want to give them this new information,” she said.

And Dr. Talibova will return home even more convinced of what’s most essential in the battle to defeat cancer: “The most important thing is research. We must do more research.”


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