Dr. Ali Bazarbachi Cancer journal’s “First Person”

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Safa Jafari Safa, Office of Communications, ss152@aub.edu.lb​
The American Cancer Society’s reputable journal, Cancer, featured AUB Dr. Ali Bazarbachi as its “first person” in its latest issue, in recognition of his trailblazing achievements in advancing the treatment of leukemia and cancer research in the Middle East and worldwide. 

Dr. Bazarbachi serves as professor of hematology and oncology; professor of anatomy, cell biology, and physiological sciences; associate dean for basic research; and director of the bone marrow transplantation program at AUB. His research focuses on developing targeted therapies for leukemia and lymphoma and bone marrow transplantation. 

He earned his medical and doctoral degrees and completed his residency and fellowship training at the University of Paris VII. He completed his PhD in the molecular and cellular basis of oncogenesis in parallel to his residency in hematology/oncology. After serving two years as a junior faculty member at the University of Paris VI, and as the circumstances in Lebanon permitted his return, he decided to join AUB in 1996.

By then, AUB was “by far the leading academic medical center between Italy and China,” as Bazarbachi told Cancer, which referred to AUB as “the prestigious university, established more than 150 years ago.” 

He proceeded to conduct groundbreaking research in several areas, including the treatment of adult T-cell leukemia (ATL), a disease that has had an extremely poor prognosis; leading an international research network that made key discoveries and published its findings, a worldwide meta-analysis, in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in 2010. The outlined treatment, now the standard of care for patients with ATL, increased five-year survival rates from 10% to nearly 50%.

“I first met Ali Bazarbachi in 1997 and even then his intellect and drive stood out,” said AUB President Fadlo Khuri, who also serves as editor-in-chief of Cancer. “Over more than 20 years, it has been my pleasure and privilege to see that remarkable intelligence, insight, and dedication being translated not only into a stellar scientific and clinical career, but also through breakthroughs in the treatment of virally mediated leukemia among other diseases.”

Bazarbachi collaborates in numerous research arenas, including ATL and acute myeloid leukemia (AML) with Dr. Hugues de Thé, professor of molecular oncology at the College de France, a physician at St. Louis Hospital in Paris, and recipient of many awards. Dr. Thé described Bazarbachi as one of his “first and most brilliant fellows” deserving “special credit for developing cutting-edge clinical and translational research in a difficult environment with frequent unrest and threats.”

Today, Bazarbachi and his colleagues continue their efforts to improve on survival rates through a variety of research studies and a series of demonstrations. “The aim is not only to further improve survival rates but also to help people remain alive without having to continue treatment for years,” said Bazarbachi. 

Currently, he is working to develop a large clinical trial that will demonstrate the effectiveness of combining targeted treatment with chemotherapy in patients with AML who have a specific, mutated subtype of AML: Nucleophosmin-1.

With his team, Bazarbachi challenges resource restrictions, working through a small pool of funding opportunities helped by intramural funding from AUB as well as support from the Lebanese National Council for Scientific Research. He said that the small number of research scientists in Lebanon was overcome “by having a very strong group at AUB and also collaborating with an international network of scientists.” 

Over the course of two decades since Bazarbachi joined AUB in the 1990s, the university has established core laboratories and research centers of excellence, and implemented a remodeling that includes brand-new facilities with high-tech laboratory equipment. Bazarbachi initiated the bone marrow transplantation program, which is the largest of its kind in Lebanon, and which attracts patients throughout the region and performs more than 100 transplantations per year. 

Bazarbachi does not want to retire before ATL patients are cured of the disease. He told Cancer that he hopes to see worldwide targeted therapy and precision medicine applications for both leukemia and lymphoma. He also hopes to help transform bone marrow transplantation from a treatment currently associated with high mortality and toxicity to “a platform of adoptive immunotherapy followed by targeted therapy post-transplantation, increasing efficacy and reducing both toxicity and mortality of transplants.” In the meantime, he continues to lead “a group of outstanding scientists who will continue on this mission.” 

“The challenge is not only to do good science in Western Europe, North America, or Japan, but to do it in your own country,” noted Bazarbachi, who added that outstanding students from throughout the region are drawn to the university because of its highly recognized facilities, scientists, and research accomplishments.

“[Dr. Bazarbachi] has set the standard for quality of care for patients with hematologic malignancies and those benefiting from bone marrow transplantation for more than two decades in the Arab world. He brings great honor to AUB as a legitimately world-class physician, scholar, and mentor,” added President Khuri.​​​