A new year brings new beginnings, and in 2018 the Research Institute is welcoming Richard Aplenc, MD, PhD, MSCE, to his new role as assistant vice president and chief clinical research officer. While Dr. Aplenc is new to the Research Institute’s leadership team, his more than two decades of experience at CHOP started with his Pediatric Hematology Oncology fellowship in 1997. Dr. Aplenc joined the faculty in 2002 and is currently a professor of Pediatrics as well as a professor of Epidemiology. In his new role, Dr. Aplenc will set the course for the development and oversight of clinical research operations across Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. It’s a position that offers big challenges — and even bigger opportunities.
Dr. Aplenc has been immersed in the ocean of research at many different — and sometimes murky — depths. He has felt the sense of urgency of a basic scientist eager to reveal new molecular mechanisms. He has unraveled the complexities of conducting drug therapy trials. He has been inspired by families and patients living with a life-threatening illness who chose to participate in research to give other children a chance at healthier futures.
The focus of Dr. Aplenc’s laboratory is on acute myeloid leukemia (AML), particularly AML therapeutics as well as clinical and genetic epidemiology studies that aim to improve clinical outcomes for pediatric patients. AML is the second most common blood cancer in children, affecting about 500 children in the U.S. each year. Gaining a better understanding of leukemia biology is crucial because despite treatment with the most intensive multi-agent chemotherapies available, approximately 30 to 40 percent of children with AML will relapse.
In March 2016, Dr. Aplenc’s robust research program was in the spotlight when he received a $1 million Hyundai Quantum Grant from Hyundai Hope on Wheels to advance new cancer treatments using immunotherapy approaches. His team is identifying specific proteins on the outside surface of AML cells that could be the most appropriate targets for immune cells programmed to attack cancers. Dr. Aplenc also is leading genomics efforts to discover genetic variations that change the risks of developing AML, the risk of relapse after chemotherapy, and the risks of heart complications in children treated for AML. Dr. Aplenc also leads a multi-institutional study to determine the risks and benefits of outpatient vs. inpatient management of neutropenia in children with AML. Finally, Dr. Aplenc is working with the Cellular Therapy program to develop cellular therapies for children with relapsed and refractory AML.
Dr. Aplenc’s broad research experiences reflects the commitment of all of the investigators at the Research Institute to improve the outcomes for pediatric patients. Indeed, this commitment and the expertise of CHOP investigators has increased the number of interventional clinical trials to over 600 and led to many non-interventional observational studies that have improved pediatric care across all specialties. This extraordinary impact demonstrates the dedication of our researchers, physicians, and families to improving outcomes for all children.