Dr. John Wingard – Deputy Director for Research, UF Health Cancer Center and Director, Bone Marrow Transplant Program – UF Health
Why did you decide to go into your area of medicine?
My grandfather was diagnosed with and died of cancer when I was a teenager. I loved him very much and his death was a very painful experience for me. To honor him, I was inspired to dedicate my life to helping others with cancer.
What do you see in the future for bone marrow transplants? (Will they continue to be advanced or will they be phased out/replaced by another technology?).
New non-transplant therapies are constantly being introduced, leading to discontinued need for stem cell transplant for some blood cancers. However, transplant technology has also advanced and outcomes are improving, leading to transplants being used in cancers that we did not previously treat with transplants. Additionally, new techniques for stem cell transplantation have been developed that make them much safer and enable donors to be identified for practically everyone who needs a transplant, which has not always been the case. The net effect of this is that transplant numbers continue to climb. Another exciting development is that immune therapies are being introduced and tested in combination with transplant therapy in clinical research studies, which may result in new treatments and improved outcomes for patients.
How important is it for community members to consider bone marrow donations?
Volunteer donors are crucial to saving lives. Traditionally, we could only offer patients a transplant if a family member was a match. Now, due to shrinking family size, only one in three people who need a transplant have a suitable match within their families. The generosity of volunteer donors and cord blood donations has saved the lives of many people who need a transplant but don’t have a matching family donor.
In your position as deputy director for research at the UF Health Cancer Center, you must see quite a few research projects and ideas. What are you most excited about?
We are on the cusp of new therapies that mobilize the body’s immune system to fight cancer by transforming the body’s own immune cells into powerful cancer fighters. These immunotherapies are being tested now in leukemia patients and will likely be tried for multiple other cancers. Early reports are very promising and one can envision them being incorporated into multiple treatment regimens — for transplants, as chemotherapies for other cancer types and in tandem with other therapies — to provide more durable cancer control and more cures.
“If I weren’t a doctor, I’d be…” Probably something like a park ranger. I love nature and the outdoors. It would be an honor to work to preserve nature.