Multiple Myeloma Research in Progress at The James

Multiple Myeloma Doctors Benson Efebera Rosko and Hofmeister

The music from Final Jeopardy played, adding even more drama and excitement to the first Multiple Myeloma: Research in Progress “game show.”

The 50 people gathered in the conference room at the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute furiously pushed the buttons on their clickers to vote for their favorite scientist. Which of the four researchers —Don Benson, MD, PhD; Yvonne Efebera, MD, MPH; Craig Hofmeister, MD, MPH; or Ashley Rosko, MD—would win the $25,000 prize to help fund their research?

The screen at the front of the conference room showed the votes coming in from the spectators in the conference room, as well as those watching the live Facebook stream, adding up in real time. Dr. Benson took an early lead, but Drs. Efebera, Hofmeister and Rosko were gaining ground.

Before we reveal the winner, a little background...

Multiple myeloma (MM) is a relatively rare form of blood cancer that starts when the normal plasma cells found in bone marrow become malignant. There were an estimated 30,000 new cases diagnosed in the United States in 2016 and 12,650 deaths, according to the National Cancer Institute.

The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) is one of the leading research and treatment centers for MM in the world, led by the work of Drs. Benson, Efebera, Hofmeister and Rosko. Their work has been supported by the fundraising efforts of Nancy Kaufmann and Steve Fink, whose daughter Sarah Kaufmann-Fink was diagnosed with MM while she was in college in Washington.

Kauffmann and Fink live in central Ohio. They did a Google search, and Dr. Hofmeister’s name popped up. Kaufmann emailed and asked if Dr. Hofmeister would give a talk at a multiple myeloma fundraising event they were planning. “He emailed back right away and said yes and said we should get together and talk,” Kaufmann says.

Kauffman and Fink began talking a lot with and Drs. Benson and Hofmeister. In 2008 the couple formed Multiple Myeloma Opportunities for Research & Education (MMORE) and raised about $3 million for multiple myeloma research at the OSUCCC – James. Drs. Benson and Hofmeister expanded their research and began clinical trials for new treatments they developed, and Drs. Efebera and Rosko were recruited to join the team with funding help from MMORE.

“We’re not scientists; we needed brilliant minds, and that’s what we have here,” Kaufmann says.

They recently pulled back from MMORE, but it lives on through the MMORE for Multiple Myeloma Research Fund at the OSUCCC – James.

“We’re still involved as donors and supporters,” Kaufmann says. “There’s no cure yet, so we’ll keep fighting and raising awareness. We’re inspired by the doctors here. The goal was to provide them with seed money to get their ideas off the shelf, and we accomplished that.”

Sarah Kaufmann-Fink is doing well. She lives on the west coast and recently had a baby.

Dr. Hofmeister was inspired by Kaufmann and Fink. “Without MMORE, we would not be here and would not have produced the research, gotten the grants and made the innovations over the years,” he told the audience.

And then, each of the four researchers briefly described their research, hoping to impress and sway the voters, who are members of the community (including several MM patients and their caregivers) who want to support more research.

Dr. Benson was first.

“In my lab, we study the relationship between the immune system and cancer,” he explained, adding that the goal is to find the answer to two basic questions: How does MM start, and how does it progress? “It’s how can we enhance and augment the immune system with antibodies that aren’t poisonous and are drugs designed to make the immune system work better.”

Dr. Rosko discussed her work with the Cancer and Aging Research Group. This is a new way to work with older MM patients to better understand their ability to tolerate aggressive cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and stem cell transplant, and how this translates to longevity. “We want to better identify testable markers to get a better sense of a patient’s health,” she said.

“One size does not fit all” was Dr. Hofmeister’s message. Currently, every MM patient gets the same dose of melphanal, the chemo drug used to battle the cancer. His goal is to begin a clinical trial to “figure out how to personalize the dosing of melphanal,” he said. “And we need your help … we hope to start enrolling patients (in the clinical trial) as soon as this year.”

Dr. Efebera treats MM patients and is also an expert in amyloidosis, a rare and related disease in which amyloid, an abnormal protein produced in bone marrow, builds up in a patient’s vital organs.

“How many of you have heard of multiple myeloma?” Dr. Efebera asked, and every hand went up. “How many of you have heard of amyloidosis?” Only a couple of hands were raised. She then described how she and three others have created the Comprehensive Amyloidosis Clinic at the OSUCCC – James.

All four of those areas of research are important, but there could be only one winner, and it was…

Dr. Benson.

“I’d like to thank the Academy,” he joked, and then got serious. “One of my great privileges is that I get to support and work with these three. Our lab works with Craig, and we work with Ashley in the Aging Clinic, and Yvonne and I share a grant and are working together. So this ($25,000) will support all four of us.”

The Multiple Myeloma Research in Progress event was a fun evening with a serious message: Funding cancer research is vital. The $25,000 came from existing funds in the MMORE for Multiple Myeloma Research Fund. Much more is needed to beat this deadly cancer.

“We thank you for participating and hope you enjoyed learning about the science we’re so excited about,” Dr. Hofmeister said as he brought the “game show” to an end. “This is our passion and why we work together and are so privileged to see patients here. Your support is how great ideas get started … Thank you for coming, and please come and talk to any of the four of us about our research.”

For more information on the MMORE for Multiple Myeloma Research Fund, click here.