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Heather Jill Symons, M.D., M.H.S.

Photo of Dr. Heather Jill Symons, M.D., M.H.S.

Clinical Director, Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant

Assistant Professor of Oncology


Expertise: Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, Acute Myeloid Leukemia, Aplastic Anemia, Bone Marrow Transplant, Bone Marrow Transplant, Haploidentical, Chronic Myeloid Leukemia, Graft-versus-Host Disease, Hematologic Malignancies, Hodgkin's Disease, Leukemia, Malignant and Nonmalignant Disorders, Medical Oncology, Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS), Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, Pediatric Oncology more

Research Interests: Pediatric bone marrow transplantation; alternative immunotherapeutic approaches

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The Johns Hopkins Hospital (Main Entrance)
Appointment Phone: 410-955-8751

1800 Orleans St.
The Charlotte R. Bloomberg Children's Center Building, 11th Floor
Baltimore, MD 21287 map


In her first decade as a pediatric oncologist, Dr. Symons already has shown an impressive ability to juggle multiple research projects, in addition to caring for patients.

One of Dr. Symons' research pursuits focuses on using a novel immunotherapy approach to treating both solid tumors and hematologic (blood-borne) malignancies. The basis of her work stems from the theory that cancer patients' immune systems should recognize tumor cells as foreign and destroy them. This doesn't happen, theorizes Dr. Symons, because the immune system attacks only those cells it perceives as dangerous—not cancer cells, which it sees simply as foreign. That's where her research comes into play.

Evaluating an experimental therapy, Dr. Symons is pairing donor lymphocytes (white blood cells that activate the body's immune system) with chemotherapy to determine if this combination will "awaken" patients' immune systems to the danger of existing cancer cells and, in turn, elicit an immune response.

In a separate yet equally compelling research endeavor, Dr. Symons is working to increase the availability of donors for children whose cancer requires bone marrow transplants (BMTs) as a potentially lifesaving treatment. "It can be challenging to find a 'matched' donor," says Dr. Symons, who explains that only about 40 percent of patients who require a BMT find a matched donor. "Sometimes, we don't have the benefit of time, because remissions can be short-lived. But almost all patients have a half-matched donor: a parent, sibling, or child," adds Dr. Symons, who is examining ways to reduce BMT-related complications ordinarily associated with half-matched donors after ablative (high dose) chemotherapy.

"Like anything else that's new, it will take some time to prove that this is a feasible option that's safe," she says. But she's optimistic. "It has the potential to revolutionize BMT."
Dr. Symons knows it's worth the wait. "Seeing the research I do in the lab translate into clinical trials, then seeing patients in these trials survive long term, is incredibly rewarding," she says. more


  • Clinical Director, Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant
  • Assistant Professor of Oncology

Departments / Divisions



  • MD, Albany Medical College of Union University (1999)


  • Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine / Pediatrics (2002)


  • Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine / Pediatric Oncology (2007)

Board Certifications

  • American Board of Pediatrics / Pediatric Hematology-Oncology (2006)

Research & Publications

Clinical Trial Keywords

Pediatric bone marrow transplantation

Selected Publications

Heather J Symons, Moshe Y Levy, Jie Wang, Xiaotao Zhou, Gang Zhou, Leo Luznik, Hyam Levitsky, Ephraim J Fuchs. The Allogeneic Effect revisited: exogenous help for endogenous, tumor-specific T cells. Biol Blood Marrow Transplant, 2008, 14(5), 499-509.

Leo Luznik, Paul V. O'Donnell, Heather J. Symons, Allen R. Chen, M. Susan Leffell, Marianna Zahurak, Steve Piantadosi, Michele Kaup, Richard F. Ambinder, Carol Ann Huff, William Matsui, Javier Bolaños-Meade, Ivan Borrello, Jonathan D. Powell, Elizabeth Harrington, Sandy Warnock, Mary Flowers, Robert A. Brodsky, Brenda M. Sandmaier, Rainer F. Storb, Richard J. Jones, and Ephraim J. Fuchs. HLA-haploidentical bone marrow transplantation for hematologic malignancies using nonmyeloablative conditioning and high-dose, post-transplantation cyclophosphamide. Biol Blood Marrow Transplant, 2008, 14(6):641-50

Heather J Symons and Ephraim J Fuchs. Hematopoietic stem cell transplantation from partially HLA-mismatched (HLA-haploidentical) related donors. Bone Marrow Transplant, 2008, Aug: 1-13.

Lauri M. Burroughs, Paul V. O'Donnell, Brenda M. Sandmaier, Barry E. Storer, Leo Luznik, Heather J. Symons, Richard J. Jones,Richard F. Ambinder, Michael B. Maris, Karl G. Blume, Dietger W. Niederwieser, Benedetto Bruno, Richard T. Maziarz, Michael A. Pulsipher, Finn B. Petersen, Rainer F. Storb, Ephraim J. Fuchs and David G. Maloney.Comparison of Outcomes of HLA-Matched Related, Unrelated, or HLA-Haploidentical Related Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation Following Nonmyeloablative Conditioning for Relapsed or Refractory Hodgkin Lymphoma. Accepted for publication, Biol Blood Marrow Transplant, 2008, 14(11):1279-87.

Heather J. Symons, M. Sue Leffell, Nancy D. Rossiter, Marianna Zahurak, Richard J. Jones, Ephraim J. Fuchs. Improved survival with inhibitory Killer Immunoglobulin Receptor (KIR) gene mismatches and KIR haplotype B donors after nonmyeloablative, HLA-haploidentical bone marrow transplantation. Biol Blood Marrow Transplant, 2010 Apr;16(4):533-42.

Ashley Munchel, Chimen Kesserwan, Heather J. Symons, Leo Luznik, Yvette L. Kasamon, and Ephraim J. Fuchs. Nonmyeloablative, HLA-haploidentical bone marrow transplantation with high dose, post-transplantation cyclophosphamide. Pediatric Reports, 2011 Jun 22;3 Suppl 2:e15. doi: 10.4081/pr.2011.s2.e15.

Arulrajah S, Symons H, Cahoon EK, Tekes A, Huisman TA, Izbudak I. Relationship between clinical sinusitis symptoms and sinus CT severity in pediatric post bone marrow transplant and immunocompetent patients. Eur J. Pediatr. 2012 Feb;171(2):375-81. doi: 10.1007/s00431-011-1560-0. Epub 2011 Sep 9.Warts 2011; volume 3:(s2)e15

Ashley Munchel, Allen Chen, Heather Symons. Emergent Complications in the Pediatric Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant Patient. Clinical Pediatric Emergency Medicine, 2011. 2011 Sept:12(3):233-244.

Zeidan A, Bolaños-Meade J, Kasamon Y, Aoki J, Borowitz M, Swinnen L, Symons H, Luznik L, Fuchs E, Jones R, Ambinder R. Human leukocyte antigen-haploidentical hematopoietic stem cell transplant for a patient with histiocytic sarcoma. Leuk Lymphoma. 2013 Mar;54(3):655-7. doi: 10.3109/10428194.2012.717082. Epub 2012 Aug 27.

Kanakry JA, Kasamon YL, Gocke CD, Tsai HL, Davis-Sproul J, Ghosh N, Symons H, Bolaños-Meade J, Gladstone DE, Swinnen LJ, Luznik L, Fuchs EJ, Jones RJ, Ambinder RF. Outcomes of Related Donor HLA-Identical or HLA-Haploidentical Allogeneic Blood or Marrow Transplantation for Peripheral T Cell Lymphoma. Biol BloodMarrow Transplant.2013 Jan 28. pii: S1083-8791(13)00021-9. doi:10.1016/j.bbmt.2013.01.006. Epub 2013 Jan 29.

Kanakry JA, Kasamon YL, Bolaños-Meade J, Borrello IM, Brodsky RA, Fuchs EJ, Ghosh N, Gladstone DE, Gocke CD, Huff CA, Kanakry CG, Luznik L, Matsui W, Mogri HJ, Swinnen LJ, Symons HJ, Jones RJ, Ambinder RF.Absence of post-transplantation lymphoproliferative disorder after allogeneic blood or marrow transplantation using post-transplantation cyclophosphamide as graft-versus-host disease prophylaxis. Biol Blood Marrow Transplant. 2013 Oct;19(10):1514-7. doi: 10.1016/j.bbmt.2013.07.013. Epub 2013 Jul 18.

Zeidan AM, Forde PM, Symons H, Chen A, Smith BD, Pratz K, Carraway H, Gladstone DE, Fuchs EJ, Luznik L, Jones RJ, Bolaños-Meade J. HLA-Haploidentical Donor Lymphocyte Infusions for Patients with Relapsed Hematologic Malignancies after Related HLA-Haploidentical Bone Marrow Transplantation. Biol Blood Marrow Transplant. 2014 Mar;20(3):314-8. doi: 10.1016/j.bbmt.2013.11.020. Epub 2013 Dec 1.

Shah NN, Borowitz MJ, Robey NC, Gamper CJ, Symons HJ, Loeb DM, Wayne AS, Chen AR. Feasibility of Treating Post-Transplant Minimal Residual Disease in Children with Acute Leukemia. Biol Blood Marrow Transplant. 2014 Jul;20(7):1033-9. doi: 10.1016/j.bbmt.2014.03.028. Epub 2014 Mar 30.

Dezern AE, Symons HJ, Resar LS, Borowitz MJ, Armanios MY, Brodsky RA. Detection of paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria clones to exclude inherited bone marrow failure syndromes. Eur J Haematol. 2014 Feb 25. doi: 10.1111/ejh.12299.

Shah NN, Borowitz MJ, Steinberg SM, Robey NC, Gamper CJ, Symons HJ, Loeb DM, Wayne AS, Chen AR. Factors Predictive of Relapse of Acute Leukemia in Children after Allogeneic Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation. Biol Blood Marrow Transplant. 2014 Mar 29. pii: S1083-8791(14)00201-8. doi: 10.1016/j.bbmt.2014.03.028.

Tolar J, Sodani P, Symons, H. Alternative donor transplant of benign primary hematologic disorders. Bone Marrow Transplant. 2015 Feb 9. doi: 10.1038/bmt.2015.1. [Epub ahead of print].

Talano JM, Pulsipher MA, Symons HJ, Militano O, Shereck EB, Giller RH, Hancock L, Morris E, Cairo MS. New frontiers in pediatric Allo-SCT. Bone Marrow Transplant. 2014 Sep;49(9):1139-45. doi:10.1038/bmt.2014.89. Epub 2014 May 12.

McCurdy SR, Kanakry JA, Showel MM, Tsai HL, Bolaños-Meade J, Rosner GL, Kanakry CG, Perica K, Symons HJ, Brodsky RA, Gladstone DE, Huff CA, Pratz KW, Prince GT, Dezern AE, Gojo I, Matsui WH, Borrello I, McDevitt MA, Swinnen LJ, Smith BD, Levis MJ, Ambinder RF, Luznik L, Jones RJ, Fuchs EJ, Kasamon YL. Risk-stratified outcomes of nonmyeloablative, HLA-haploidentical BMT with high-dose posttransplantation cyclophosphamide. Blood. 2015 Mar 26. pii: blood-2015-01-623991. [Epub ahead of print].

Tolar J, Sodani P, Symons, H. Alternative donor transplant of benign primary hematologic disorders. Bone Marrow Transplant. 2015 Feb 9. doi: 10.1038/bmt.2015.1. [Epub ahead of print].

Activities & Honors


  • Alpha Omega Alpha, Alpha Omega Alpha
  • Jack Spitalny Prize, Awarded to the senior medical student who has excelled in Pediatrics
  • Charles Eckart Award, Awarded to the medical student who has demonstrated outstanding academic achievement in the field of surgery, 1999
  • American Academy of Pediatrics International Health Travel Scholarship
  • Fellowship to Attend American Association of Cancer Research Workshop in Molecular Biology and Clinical Oncology
  • NIH Loan Repayment Program Grant Recipient
  • Appointed Chief Fellow, Johns Hopkins Children’s Center/National Institutes of Health, Baltimore, MD.
  • October, 2006: Recipient of an ASH Travel Award for oral presentation of submitted abstract at the 2006 ASH annual meeting
  • June, 2014: Recipient, Teaching Award from Johns Hopkins-NIH Pediatric Hematology-Oncology Fellows
  • February, 2015: Recipient, Best abstract award, CIBMTR
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