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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

Female

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 ...read more

Research Interests: Improving the efficacy and decreasing the toxicity of haploidentical BMT for pediatric malignancies and non-malignant disorders; augmenting graft versus tumor effect and preventing relapse after haploBMT ...read more

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Locations

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

Background

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.

...read more

Titles

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

Departments / Divisions

Education

Degrees

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

Residencies

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

Fellowships

  • 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.

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.

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 2015 Feb 9.

Jacoby E, Chen A, Loeb DM, Gamper CJ, Zambidis E, Llosa NJ, Huo J, Cooke KR, Jones R, Fuchs E, Luznik L, Symons HJ. Single-Agent Post-Transplantation Cyclophosphamide as Graft-versus-Host Disease Prophylaxis after Human Leukocyte Antigen-Matched Related Bone Marrow Transplantation for Pediatric and Young Adult Patients with Hematologic Malignancies. Biol Blood Marrow Transplant. 2015 Sep 4. pii: S1083-8791(15)00595-9. doi: 10.1016/j.bbmt.2015.08.034. Epub 2015 Sep 4.

Klein OR, Chen AR, Gamper C, Loeb D, Zambidis E, Llosa N, Huo J, Dezern AE, Steppan D, Robey N, Holuba M, Cooke KR, Symons HJ. Alternative donor hematopoietic stem cell transplantation with post-transplantation cyclophosphamide for nonmalignant disorders. Biol Blood Marrow Transplant. 2016 Feb 6. pii: S1083-8791(16)00095-1. doi: 10.1016/j.bbmt.2016.02.001. [Epub ahead of print].

Activities & Honors

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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