David Frank Joins Emory’s Winship Cancer Institute
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David Frank Joins Emory’s Winship Cancer Institute

The institute will move into the spotlight, becoming “more of destination nationally for people seeking outstanding medical care for cancer and blood disorders.”

Robyn Spizman Gerson is a New York Times best-selling author of many books, including “When Words Matter Most.” She is also a communications professional and well-known media personality, having appeared often locally on “Atlanta and Company” and nationally on NBC’s “Today” show. For more information go to www.robynspizman.com.

Dr. David Frank leads the Hematology Division at the Winship Cancer Institute and Emory University School of Medicine.
Dr. David Frank leads the Hematology Division at the Winship Cancer Institute and Emory University School of Medicine.

David Frank, MD, is board certified in medical oncology and cares for patients with hematologic malignancies, specializing in leukemia. A renowned physician-scientist, Dr. Frank’s research has developed innovative ways to target STAT transcription factors for the treatment of cancer. He is the director of the Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Emory University School of Medicine.

A native of Brooklyn, Frank went to college at MIT, before completing an MD-PhD program and internal medicine training at Yale. He then went to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School in Boston for his oncology training. Frank joined the faculty there and lived in the Northeast for more than 20 years.

“My professional career has focused on taking care of patients with hematologic (blood) cancers, such as various forms of leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma,” Frank says. “At the same time, I have run a laboratory that has been focused on understanding the molecular abnormalities in cancer cells and using this knowledge to develop new targeted therapies to treat patients. We have advanced several drugs we have identified from the laboratory to clinical trials for our patients. Since the proteins that we study, which regulate the activity of genes, are activated inappropriately in many different kinds of cancers (including non- hematologic cancers such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and others), we are hopeful that this approach will have a broad impact on cancer therapy.”

Frank and his wife Shelia with their children, Rachel and Michael.

Frank recently joined the Winship Cancer Institute, though he said he was “very happy at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute” and “thought that I would likely finish my career there.” When presented with the opportunity to lead the hematology division at Winship, Frank says he “was very intrigued.”

He clarified that “although my specialty is blood cancers, the hematology division evaluates and treats other blood disorders as well. This includes red blood cell disorders such as anemias, and bleeding and clotting disorders. We also care for one of the biggest populations of patients with sickle cell disease in the country. The blood clotting system is one of the body’s beautiful, complex systems that has to be balanced very carefully. If there is not enough clotting activity, then a person is at risk for potentially serious bleeding. On the other hand, too much clotting activity can put a person at risk for blood clots and emboli, which can be equally serious. It is a privilege to have such wonderful hematologists in our division who are world experts in dealing with these complex conditions.”

Frank is passionate about his field and eloquent about its intricacies. Like clotting, the production of blood cells, he said, “is under a similar beautiful control mechanism. If we donate blood, our body will rapidly make more red blood cells to replace what was donated. If we get an infection, the white blood cells that fight off that particular kind of infection will increase in number, but will then return to their baseline levels after the infection has cleared. Blood cancers, like leukemias, occur when individual blood cells start proliferating in an uncontrolled way or survive too long when they should be dying off. Understanding how blood cells regulate themselves under normal circumstances, and how this system goes awry in cancer, has always been fascinating to me. Our ability now to use this knowledge to help people with all kinds of cancer is what drives our laboratory’s work. Many new therapies have recently become available, and more are on the horizon. I am very optimistic that we will be able to significantly lift the burden of cancer from society in the years ahead, and I believe Emory and Winship will play a significant role in this effort. This is very meaningful to me given all the suffering I have seen from cancer over the years, including the death of my own mother from cancer last year.”

When it comes to the Jewish community, Frank says that “although blood cancers and other blood disorders do not generally occur more frequently in the Jewish population, they are very common, complex, and often life-threatening conditions.” He believes that Emory will move into the spotlight, becoming “more of a destination nationally for people seeking outstanding medical care for cancer and blood disorders.”

Frank met his wife Shelia in graduate school at Yale, while they were doing research in the same laboratory. Shelia is now the chief scientific officer for a biotechnology company, and they have two children, Rachel and Michael.

“We have no family in the Atlanta area, and knew only a handful of people here,” Frank said. “However, when I told my colleagues in Boston that I was accepting this position at Emory, many of them immediately connected me with family members in the Atlanta area. The warmth of all of these people was amazing to me. Shelia and I just moved into our home in the Morningside neighborhood of Atlanta. Once we get settled, I look forward to reaching out to these people to start to establish a new network in Atlanta. I started at Emory on September 1, only a few days before the Jewish holidays. At that time, I was staying in a short-term rental home while we were still house hunting. Since I did not have a connection to any particular neighborhood at that time, I attended services at Emory Hillel. Everyone was incredibly welcoming, and the spirit and warmth of that congregation was very special.”

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