A Chemistry Lover Finds Her Calling in Hematology
"I am indebted to ASH and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for funding my career development award with the AMFDP. Through this exposure I have been able to meet so many amazing hematologists – both peers and long-established experts in the field."
Dr. Lachelle D. Weeks was all set to pursue a career in chemistry when she fell in love with oncology, after learning that nitrogen mustards were used to treat cancer in a medicinal chemistry class.
As an undergrad, Dr. Lachelle Weeks sat in a medicinal chemistry class learning about nitrogen mustards, chemical warfare agents which were retooled to treat cancer. There had to be a better way to go about curing disease than using such toxic agent, she thought. Though she began her undergraduate studies as a chemistry major, she added a pre-med focus in her junior year, shortly after taking this class. As an MD-PhD student her interests transitioned from drug screening and design to mechanisms of chemotherapy drug resistance. Then, as an Internal Medicine resident she finally got the chance to spend some time caring for patients with hematologic malignancies on the oncology and bone marrow transplant inpatient services. From then on, she was set on pursuing a career as a hematologist, solidifying her interests as a fellow at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Today, as a physician-scientist at Dana-Farber in the Department of Medical Oncology, Division of Hematologic Malignancies and Instructor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, she leads the myeloid precursor efforts for the Dana-Farber Center for Prevention of Progression, specializing in the management of patients with clonal hematopoiesis, a benign myeloid precursor condition that precedes the development of myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Her research is focused on identifying factors that predict the risk of progression from precursor condition to overt hematologic malignancy.
That is remarkable in and of itself, but for a self-described ‘southern girl at heart’, her successes stem from a central philosophy she lives by: “if you see something that is out of place, incorrect or could use improvement, then you have a responsibility to make it better”, Dr. Weeks explains. Coming from this perspective, she points out, makes it easier to land in leadership positions. Dr. Weeks lived most of her life in the Northeast growing up in Newark, New Jersey but has extended family in Georgia and South Carolina. The cultural diversity she was exposed to is something she still values, knowing that data shows diversity benefits patients and leads to innovative science. A critical aspect to achieving diversity, she believes, is ensuring that everyone’s voice is valued in a space. Dr. Weeks sees this as essential to excellence, as “one cannot provide excellent patient care in the absence of equity”, she explains, and “one cannot have an excellent research program if there is no equity in who does the science, who is studied and who benefits from the results.”
As one of the co-chairs of the ASH anti-racism task force, she advises and mentors the next crop of trainees, emphasizing on the importance of speaking up and remembering that there isn’t a singular approach to a problem. Dr. Weeks has helped develop some of ASH most recent efforts in the field of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI); contributing to curricula that were showcased at the 2020 annual meeting, the ASH anti-racism studio and toolkit, and the Health Equity Rounds: “Getting involved with ASH has been one of the most transformative aspects of my career. I am indebted to ASH and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for funding my career development award with the AMFDP. Through this exposure I have been able to meet so many amazing hematologists – both peers and long-established experts in the field – and as a new faculty member, the networking experiences that I had on trainee council have been so valuable – evolving into research collaborations, as well as mentorship and sponsorship connections.”
ASH remains committed to building and nurturing a global hematology community and workforce inclusive of diverse perspectives, talents, and experiences. Learn more.