Thomas P. Miller, MD, professor of medicine with the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson and director of the Lymphoma Program at the University of Arizona Cancer Center, will discuss “We Changed Outcome for Lymphoma Patients (‘You Didn’t Get There on Your Own’),” a free lecture, open to the public, on Friday, Nov. 16, noon to 1 p.m., in DuVal Auditorium, The University of Arizona Medical Center – University Campus, 1501 N. Campbell Ave., Tucson. (Lymphoma is cancer that begins in the cells of the immune system.)
Please note: There is a parking fee of $1.50 per hour, cash only, in The University of Arizona Medical Center – University Campus visitor/patient parking garage.)
Dr. Miller is the recipient of the college’s 2012 Faculty Science Forum Founders Day Award, to be presented during the event. The Founders Day lectureship was established in 1979 to recognize and honor UA College of Medicine faculty for their scientific accomplishments. Each year, faculty members select one of their peers to provide a presentation to commemorate the founding of the UA College of Medicine – Tucson, which was dedicated Nov. 17, 1967. The award recipient is a faculty member who embodies a model of an investigator whose research work has a continuous thread of significance and who effectively can present that research with enthusiasm, vigor and inspiration.
Dr. Miller and the Lymphoma Program
From a single effort at research into a disease, the Lymphoma Program at the University of Arizona Cancer Center has grown to include nine faculty and 13 staff members in several departments. The effort has changed how medicine is practiced and that has improved patient outcomes. But, as Dr. Miller emphasizes, he “didn’t get there on his own.”
Dr. Miller’s interest in the UA was the result of two seemingly unrelated events. First, while serving as a commissioned officer in the Indian Health Service in Crownpoint, N.M., he developed an affection for the Southwest. Then he was struck by the innovative work of UA Cancer Center Founding Director Sydney E. Salmon, MD (1936-1999), and Brian G.M. Durie, MD, in the field of quantitating myeloma tumor burden.
While he was chief resident in medicine at the University of Illinois, Chicago, in 1976, Dr. Miller contacted David S. Alberts, MD, then director of the medical oncology and hematology fellowship program at the UA and current director of the UA Cancer Center, and he subsequently was offered a fellowship at the UA in 1977. Drs. Salmon, Durie and Alberts and Stephen E. Jones, MD, formed the Section of Hematology/Oncology and served as Dr. Miller’s mentors for three years. Dr. Miller attributes much of his success to their efforts.
In 1980, Dr. Miller was offered a position on the UA College of Medicine faculty. His wife, rheumatologist Margaret M. Miller, MD, also joined the faculty, thanks to the efforts of Rubin Bressler, MD (1928-2009), then-chairman of the college’s Department of Medicine.
Then the most fateful event in Dr. Miller’s career unfolded with the hiring of faculty member Thomas M. Grogan, MD, a hematopathologist from Stanford University, who would become his partner, collaborator and friend for the duration of their careers.
Translational research, now a buzz word in medical science, rarely was entertained in 1980. Dr. Grogan brought with him the new and largely untested technology of immunohistochemistry – a method to probe cancer cells for the presence of key proteins using newly created antibodies. Together, Drs. Miller and Grogan tested biopsies with newly created antibodies and correlated patient outcome with the laboratory results.
Their findings were a milestone in lymphoma research, showing that lymphoma subtypes could be more accurately diagnosed; that the proliferation of cells could be measured easily and, more importantly, could predict survival; and that when expression of key lymphocyte antigens was diminished the body’s response to the cancer was weakened and patients died prematurely.
These initial observations were expanded and probed in greater depth with the addition of a third member of the lymphoma team, Lisa Rimsza, MD, in 2002. After her arrival, correlations of outcome were linked to molecular changes measured with RNA (ribonucleic acid) arrays and reported in several articles published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Today, the molecular changes are being used to identify targets for drug therapy. Some of those drugs are being developed by UA scientists and are being studied in clinical trials for patients with lymphoma.
Dr. Miller also has spent considerable time developing new treatment strategies for patients with lymphoma. His description of the use of a systemic therapy for patients with seemingly limited aggressive subtypes of lymphoma, published in The Lancet in 1979, was a paradigm shift in treatment strategy, and initial systemic therapy today remains the standard of care, as described in another New England Journal of Medicine report in 1998. That change in focus – from treating a visible mass to treating microscopic metastases – has changed outcomes for tens of thousands of patients worldwide.
UA investigators continue to lead in that niche of therapeutic research and are the principal investigators of the current national intergroup study to refine treatment and reduce toxicity for these patients. In advanced disease, Dr. Miller and colleagues conducted the national intergroup study that set the standard of care for 25 years. The importance of this study in changing practice is reflected by yet another New England Journal of Medicine article in 1993.
Currently, Dr. Miller is a senior scientist and member of the Director’s Advisory Committee of the UA Cancer Center. He has been the principal investigator of the Southwest Oncology Group National Cancer Institute (NCI) U10 grant for the past 27 years and the principal investigator at the UA for the University of Rochester/University of Arizona NCI-designated SPORE (Specialized Program of Research Excellence). He serves on the NCI Lymphoma Research Steering Committee.
Dr. Miller has been included in every edition of America’s Top Doctors
and Best Doctors in America®
. He served as head of the Section of Hematology/Oncology for 10 years and played a key role in the development of The University of Arizona Cancer Center – North Campus
, 3838 N. Campbell Ave., Tucson, where he continues to see patients.