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Shahinaz Gadalla Awarded Scientific Tenure by the NIH

, by Julian Cantella, M.A.

In April 2022, Shahinaz Gadalla, M.D., Ph.D., was awarded scientific tenure by the NIH and promoted to senior investigator in the Clinical Genetics Branch. Dr. Gadalla is a highly collaborative, internationally recognized physician scientist with expertise in cancer epidemiology and clinical medicine. She investigates the role of genetic factors in cancer etiology and explores elements that may modify disease risk among high-risk individuals.

Dr. Gadalla led the first study to provide strong epidemiological evidence that myotonic dystrophy (or dystrophia myotonica; DM) is a cancer susceptibility syndrome. DM, a neurological disease characterized by muscle wasting and weakness, was associated with higher risk of cancers of the endometrium, ovary, brain, thyroid, and colon. Following that groundbreaking study, Dr. Gadalla and collaborators identified associated risk factors and underlying carcinogenic mechanisms in patients with the disease. Her findings laid a foundation for the cancer information included in the first consensus-based clinical care guidelines for DM patients. 

Her second area of research led to major advances in understanding risk factors related to hematopoietic cell (bone marrow) transplantation (HCT). HCT treats many severe diseases of the hematopoietic system, including leukemia, aplastic anemia, and non-malignant diseases. Dr. Gadalla independently initiated the Transplant Outcomes in Aplastic Anemia study in collaboration with the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research, the world’s largest HCT patient registry and research entity. 

This collaboration led to the discovery that longer donor telomere length was significantly associated with improved survival after HCT in patients with severe aplastic anemia (SAA). The association was independent of donor age or other important clinical factors. Dr. Gadalla went on to co-lead the first genome-wide association study of SAA susceptibility, which identified novel loci as SAA risk factors. Dr. Gadalla and collaborators also identified new markers to refine donor selection and improve patient risk stratification for HCT, both in SAA and acute leukemia. Overall, Dr. Gadalla’s groundbreaking approach could lead to a new clinical paradigm in HCT donor selection based on biological (instead of chronological) age and greatly expand the pool of eligible HCT donors.

In addition to her robust research program, Dr. Gadalla has led efforts to establish and expand a data-sharing agreement with the Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD). This comprehensive database contains longitudinal medical and lifestyle information on millions of individuals from clinics across the United Kingdom. The wealth of data from the CPRD has opened up numerous opportunities for DCEG researchers to study risk factors and exposures that may contribute to cancer risk.

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