Bartlett Selected to Receive 2020 ASH Scholar Award

David Bartlett
David Bartlett, PhD

Assistant professor of Medicine David Bartlett, PhD has been selected to receive a $150,000 clinical-junior-faculty-level 2020 ASH Scholar Award by the American Society of Hematology (ASH) to study the underlying mechanisms and clinical usefulness of exercise training on the immune system of older patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Bartlett is one of five clinical junior faculty to receive an ASH Scholar Award.

One of ASH’s most prestigious research award programs, the ASH Scholar Award, over a two-to-three year period, financially supports fellows, faculty scholars and junior faculty in the U.S. and Canada who have dedicated themselves to careers in hematology research as they transition from training programs to careers as independent investigators. These scholars conduct basic, translational, and clinical research that furthers the understanding and treatment of blood disorders.

“This study will provide new insights into the underlying mechanisms and clinical usefulness of exercise training on the immune system of patients with CLL,” said Bartlett, a Duke Cancer Institute and Duke Molecular Physiology Institute member. “If successful, the results can lead to new and improved approaches for care of patients with CLL, potentially increasing time-to-treatment or therapeutic tolerability. Our biomarkers and CT-scan components have the potential to identify key predictors of immune responses, and to provide important insights into the mechanisms of exercise benefits in cancer patients.”

Most patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), are over 60 years old and do not require immediate treatment, Bartlett explained, but they are usually physically de-conditioned, have a reduced quality of life, and increased morbidity and mortality risk because of cancer specific complications.

“They struggle with significant immune dysregulation – with increased risk for secondary malignancies, autoimmune responses, and infectious incidents,” Bartlett said. “One way to potentially mitigate a patient’s clinical course and enhance immune functions is adoption of an adequate exercise training program.”

Bartlett earned his PhD in Immunology in 2014 from the University of Birmingham in England. There he specialized in the effects of exercise and lifestyles on immune function and systemic inflammation in the elderly. He was awarded a coveted Marie Curie Outgoing Fellowship from the European Union which brought him to Duke. Under the guidance of William Kraus, MD,  he assessed the immunological and physiological responses of exercise training in patients with pre-diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. Bartlett's lab studies the effects of exercise and energy balance on immune function and physiology of patient groups including cancer, arthritis and diabetes.

Bartlett’s study collaborators on the ASH award are physician-scientists Danielle Brander MD, and Andrea Sitlinger, MD — both of whom are medical oncologists with Duke Cancer Institute’s Hematologic Malignancies & Cellular Therapy Disease Group. Brander specializes in the research and treatment of CLL. Sitlinger’s research focus is on improving clinical outcomes for cancer patients through interventions in physical fitness, survivorship care, and financial toxicity.

The group will measure how older adults with CLL fare with 12 weeks of a high intensity interval training (HIIT) program versus 12 weeks of moderate intensity continuous training (MICT). Clinical parameters will include lymphocyte counts and subtype frequency and lymphoid tissue size changes. They will assess changes in “healthy” immune functions consistent with reduced risk of secondary malignancies and infections.

“For many scientists, attaining early funding for their research is a turning point, not only providing financial support but also showing that ASH believes in their potential to make impactful discoveries,” said 2020 ASH President Stephanie Lee, MD, MPH of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. “For more than 30 years now, ASH has been supporting fellows and early career faculty with Scholar Awards. Recipients of these prestigious awards have gone on to distinguished careers, receiving more than $1 billion from various funding institutions and becoming leaders in our field.”

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