DCI's Brander Inspired By Her Patients, LLS, To Light The Night

Danielle Brander, MD, and her kids at LLS Triangle Light the Night walk in 2016. Danielle Brander, MD, and her kids at LLS Triangle Light the Night walk in 2016. Hematologic oncologist Danielle Brander, MD, has signed on as honorary team captain to lead Team Duke Cancer Institute at this year's The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Triangle Light the Night walk.

She’s attended the walk for the last two years with her family, and has been talking up the walk with colleagues and friends.

“Participating in the Triangle Light the Night Walk along with colleagues, patients, our families, and all those who provide support to cancer patients is extremely important to me,” said Brander, who expressed her gratitude to LLS for the research and patient aid they provide. “It’s inspiring just before the walk when thousands of lights turn on in the field, and we recognize what the fundraising efforts can do, and remember all those we do this for. “

Brander joined the faculty of the Division of Hematologic Malignancies & Cellular Therapy at Duke Cancer Institute in July 2013. She had graduated from medical school at Duke in 2007, and stayed at Duke through residency and fellowship.

Now the lead physician at Duke Cancer Center’s chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and indolent lymphoma clinic and Duke site principal investigator for clinical trials for these cancers, Brander is considered an expert on CLL. Last year, the Duke hematology-oncology fellows honored her with a junior teaching award.

New cases of leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma are expected to account for 10.2 percent of new cancer cases diagnosed this year in the United States. Originating in the white blood cells, CLL accounts for about one-third of all leukemias in the United States. In 2017, it is estimated that 20,000 people in the US alone will be diagnosed with CLL. It mainly affects older adults but patients as young as their 20s can also be affected.  One of the most heterogeneous blood cancers, some patients can go decades without needing treatment and other patients can have an aggressive course that could give them a life expectancy measured in months or only a few years.

Seventy-five to eighty percent of patients will eventually need treatment. Brander estimates, based on clinical trial data, that up to a quarter of these patients will eventually become resistant to or not tolerate the currently available drugs, which is why she says lab research and clinical trials are critical.

“Until we have a cure and until we can expect all patients with CLL to live their full life expectancy with the best quality of life, it motivates us all to do better in the clinic and with the research,” said Brander. “My ideal would be for every patient to have the option of a clinical trial.”

Joseph Carroll, of Asheville, is a grateful patient of Danielle Brander, MD. Joseph Carroll, of Asheville, is a grateful patient of Danielle Brander, MD. There are a number of clinical trials at Duke for patients with leukemia, including CLL.  Some of the CLL trials involve combining the novel targeted therapies with chemotherapy and some involve combining targeted therapies with next generation antibodies.

Brander is currently one of the site PIs of an international phase 1b trial of venetoclax plus rituximab for patients with relapsed/refractory CLL or small lymphocytic leukemia that’s reported impressive results. This past spring she presented preliminary findings from that trial that show it’s possible to achieve treatment-free remission and to re-treat patients who have asymptomatic progression and achieve a complete response.

For Brander, clinical trials, lab research, patient education, and patient care “go hand in hand.”

In July Brander led a Leukemia & Lymphoma Society webinar on “Living with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL).” The free-of-charge forum attracted nearly a thousand patients and caregivers from around the world.

One of Brander’s patients, Joe Carroll, an engineer from Asheville, North Carolina, tuned in to the webinar, which he found to be “very informative and empowering.”

“I get so much when I come here to Duke,” said Carroll, 62, who was diagnosed with CLL in 2008 and had the opportunity to participate in a clinical trial. “Dr. Brander’s dedication, her sense of purpose, and the care that I get is hard to put into words. She’s had such a big impact on my life.”

Following an appointment in August, Carroll stopped by a sign-up table for the Light the Night Walk and gave a donation to the DCI Triangle Light the Night team led by Brander.    

More than 5,000 people step out each year for the event. This year’s walk will take place Saturday, Oct. 28, at the Booth Amphitheatre in Cary, North Carolina.

For a second year, Duke Cancer Institute is teaming up with LLS to sponsor a Glam Station featuring spa-inspired activities hosted by Duke Cancer Institute's Patient Support Program. Highlights include complimentary makeup and salon services, scarf tying, wig fitting and face painting for kids. To register or join the Duke Cancer Institute team, captained by Brander, visit Team Duke Cancer Institute.

Circle photo (top): Danielle Brander, MD, with Emily Blust, executive director at The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, North Carolina Chapter, bring the Triangle Light the Night Walk to patients in the 9100 wing of Duke University Hospital, September 2017.