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Saad Z. Usmani, MD, FACP
Director of Clinical Research (Hematologic Malignancies)
Director of Plasma Cell Disorders
Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Levine Cancer
Charlotte, North Carolina
Sinai-Grace Hospital, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan
Hematology and Medical Oncology, University of Connecticut Health
Allama Iqbal Medical College, Lahore, Pakistan
Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The
important thing is not to stop questioning. --Albert
Cancer-one of the most emotionally-charged words in the English
language-is a frightening diagnosis and a debilitating disease. A
biological villain robbing its host of healthy cells, it disrupts
the lives of patients and their caregivers, consuming their
thoughts and resources as they embark on a surreal journey fraught
with uncertainty and anxiety. This is the terrain that
hematologist/oncologist/clinical researcher Dr. Saad Usmani, FACP,
travels everyday with his patients.
"Few other diseases carry the stigma that cancer does," says Dr.
Usmani. "As an oncologist, the relationship I have with patients is
very unique. My job is to provide my patients with a hopeful
outlook as well as realistic expectations. I must educate and
communicate, and in the end, if therapies do not work, I must walk
with them all the way, even that last mile."
Dr. Usmani is Director of the Plasma Cell Disorder program and
the Director of Clinical Research in Hematologic Malignancies at
Levine Cancer Institute /Carolinas Healthcare System. He is a
specialist in Hematology, Medical Oncology and Bone Marrow
Transplantation and holds an academic appointment as Clinical
Associate Professor of Medicine at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of
Medicine. As a clinician, he is hopeful and enthusiastic about the
advancements in the field of clinical research and clinical
"Clinical trials are an extremely important part of cancer care
and vital for moving the field forward," says Dr. Usmani. "We are
providing patients with options when no other options exist."
According to Dr. Usmani, only 3% of cancer patients in the U.S. are
enrolled in clinical trials. "We don't have good mechanisms to make
these trials accessible," he says, "that's the piece we really need
to work on and that's why I came to Levine Cancer Institute
Prior to joining LCI, Dr. Usmani was an Assistant Professor of
Medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in
Little Rock, AR where he served as the Director of Developmental
Therapeutics at the Myeloma Institute for Research & Therapy.
His clinical and translational research focused on plasma cell
disorders, specifically high-risk multiple myeloma. He is among 100
clinicians and researchers in the field of oncology from around the
country who were recruited by LCI President (and ACP Fellow) Derek
Raghavan, MD, PhD, FACP, FRACP. Dr. Raghavan's vision is simple:
improve access to clinical trials and world-class experts by
removing the financial and logistical barriers that often
disproportionately impact underserved patients.
According to Dr. Usmani, LCI's motto, "where you live shouldn't
determine how you're treated," is being achieved through the
creation of a consortium of linked cancer centers across North and
South Carolina. "By developing an integrated network," he explains,
"we can make clinical trials available to far more patients."
Carolinas Healthcare System is the largest not-for-profit
healthcare system outside of the Veterans Administration. It
encompasses close to 50 hospitals and 900 health care facilities
throughout the Carolinas, and has a single EHR system. "What's
happening at LCI," says Dr. Usmani, "parallels ACP's focus on
patient-centered care, access to care, high clinical standards, and
bringing value to care."
Dr. Usmani was encouraged to join ACP while doing his internal
medicine residency at Sinai-Grace Hospital/Wayne State University
in Detroit. "ACP's Michigan chapter is very active," he says, "I
learned research methodology and how to write and present abstracts
by participating in the state and regional competitions, and I'm
extremely thankful for the mentoring I received." Dr. Usmani
believes it's important for medical students to understand what ACP
has to offer. "At the grass roots level, ACP members are coaching
students, helping them become better physicians, better
communicators and effective leaders."
Trading cricket whites for medicine's white
The oldest of five children, Dr. Usmani was born in Lahore,
Pakistan, a large and vibrant metropolitan city, to parents he
fondly describes as "over-achievers who pushed me and my siblings
toward academic excellence." "In Pakistan," says Dr. Usmani, "smart
students are pushed toward mathematics or science and by the end of
10th grade they are selecting careers." Dr. Usmani excelled in
biology, but he also loved playing cricket. When he was accepted to
Allama Iqbal Medical College in Lahore, he was torn between wanting
to play cricket or study medicine. Laughing, he acknowledges, "a
little bit of gentle persuasion from my parents sealed the deal as
to what I should be doing with my life."
Fortunately, Dr. Usmani was well suited for a career in
medicine. "I enjoyed figuring out why a biological phenomenon
happens. Also, I'm a very social person and I liked the human
interaction of medicine."
Dr. Usmani's interest in hematologic malignancies and clinical
research began when he was a medical student. "Of all disease
pathology, cancer intrigued me," he says, "specifically the
hematologic malignancies, because that is the organ system where
you can study the development of normal cells from stem cell level
to maturation in real time." "A bone marrow biopsy shows cellular
evolution," he explains, "No other organ system can provide that
kind of imagery."
Dr. Usmani recalls when a drug therapy was discovered for
chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). "The natural history of the
disease had been five years," he says, "so it was very exciting to
see that overnight, a drug turned a death sentence into a chronic
illness and revolutionized how we think about cancer." Excited by
developments in the field of clinical research, Dr. Usmani chose to
leave Pakistan to pursue further educational opportunities in the
After finishing his residency at Wayne State University, he
completed a fellowship in Hematology & Oncology at the
University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington, Connecticut,
and later became a transplant-trained physician. "Stem cell
transplantation is a highly subspecialized field and very important
to hematologists," says Dr. Usmani, "but it is not new-in fact, it
is almost four decades old; but in the past 15 years we have
learned to make these therapies safer and more effective for
In addition to being an ACP Fellow, Dr. Usmani is a member of
the International Myeloma Working Group, the SWOG Myeloma
Committee, the Bone Marrow Transplant- Clinical Trials Network
Myeloma Committee, the American Society of Hematology, the American
Society of Clinical Oncology and the American Society of Bone
Marrow Transplantation. He serves on the ASCO Scientific Committee
on Lymphoma and Plasma Cell Disorders, the ASH Committee on Plasma
Cell Neoplasia, and the editorial review board of numerous medical
Dr. Usmani is married to Dr. Zainab Shahid, who did her
fellowship in infectious diseases and subspecialized in transplant
infectious diseases. The couple and their three children, ages two,
seven, and ten enjoy traveling to Pakistan to visit grandparents
and other relatives, but they love living in Charlotte, North
Carolina where they can do weekend excursions to the beach or the
mountains. Dr. Usmani still enjoys playing in occasional cricket
matches, likes watching sports and movies, and shares his
10-year-old daughter's passion for Harry Potter and the Hunger
A jovial, "glass half-full" physician, whose job it is to
provide "a hopeful outlook and realistic expectations," Dr.
Usmani's mission is to ensure that patients have the resources they
need to fight the fight and reclaim their right to hope.
Hope-one of the most spiritually-charged words in the English
language-is fear's greatest adversary. For cancer patients and
their families it is a reprieve from despair, a place of
possibilities where they can breathe and dare to dream again. This
is the terrain that hematologist/oncologist/clinical researcher Dr.
Saad Usmani, FACP, travels everyday with his patients.
September 2014 Issue of IMpact
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