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ASCO Mourns Leukemia Pioneer Dr. Clara D. Bloomfield

Mar 03, 2020

ASCO and the oncology community are saddened by the passing of Clara D. Bloomfield, MD, FASCO. Dr. Bloomfield passed away on March 1, 2020. She was 77.

Dr. Bloomfield served as the William G. Pace III Endowed Chair in Cancer Research and Professor at The Ohio State University (OSU) Comprehensive Cancer Center (OSUCCC). In 2006, she was named Distinguished University Professor, the highest academic honor at OSU. Within OSUCCC, she served as cancer scholar and senior adviser, and as a member of the Molecular Biology and Cancer Genetics Program.

Dr. Bloomfield was among the first physician-scientists to investigate viable treatment options for older patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML)—previously believed to be fatal—and to discover that the disease could be cured in this population using chemotherapy. She was a major contributor to the understanding of the biology of acute leukemias and the practical use of cytogenetic and molecular information in diagnosis, classification, determining prognosis, and selecting personalized curative therapeutic approaches. Her work led to the development of new treatments that enabled patients to live longer, and in many cases, to recover from certain types of blood-related cancer.

ASCO executive vice president and chief medical officer Richard L. Schilsky, MD, FACP, FSCT, FASCO, worked closely with Dr. Bloomfield for decades in the Cancer and Leukemia Group B (CALGB). “Early on, Clara recognized the value of collecting well-annotated leukemia specimens from patients participating in prospective clinical trials,” Dr. Schilsky recalled. “In the early 1980s, she established a companion cytogenetics protocol that became the longest-running protocol in CALGB history and enabled development of a leukemia tissue bank of unparalleled utility and value. Her studies of the cytogenetic and molecular genetic subtypes of AML led to countless insights into the heterogeneity of that disease and the development of diagnostic markers, prognostic classifications, and treatment approaches in common clinical use today.”

As a pioneer for women in medicine, Dr. Bloomfield’s biography in the National Library of Medicine highlights a few of the glass ceilings she shattered: In 1980, she attained the rank of full professor of medicine in the Division of Oncology at the University of Minnesota, the first woman to achieve that position, and in 1997, she was the third woman to lead a National Cancer Institute–designated center when she assumed directorship of OSUCCC.

Her distinguished career in research and clinical care garnered numerous awards, including election to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in 2000, the Joseph H. Burchenal Clinical Research Award of the American Association for Cancer Research in 2004, and the Henry M. Stratton Medal of the American Society of Hematology in 2008.

ASCO twice honored Dr. Bloomfield for her groundbreaking contributions to clinical research and for her outstanding impact on the treatment of patients with cancer, first with the Distinguished Service Award for Scientific Achievement in 2006, and with the David A. Karnofsky Memorial Award and Lecture (ASCO’s highest scientific honor) in 2009.

“Perhaps more important than her scientific accomplishments was her approach to her work. Her outstanding scholarship, devotion to excellence, passion for mentoring and relentless pursuit of the unvarnished truth are legendary,” Dr. Schilsky said. “Few people in our field are so accomplished and so respected to be known by first name only. Clara was certainly one and we will miss her deeply.”

Read more about Dr. Bloomfield’s groundbreaking discoveries and legacy in a tribute from OSU.

ASCO extends its deepest sympathies to Dr. Bloomfield’s family and her colleagues.


Gary L. Grammens, MD, PhD, FACP

Mar, 03 2020 1:26 PM

Dr Bloomfield was a junior faculty member when I was a medical resident rotating through Oncolgy at the University of Minnesota in 1973.  She was one of the most dedicated and talented physicians I had encountered and encouraged me to pursue this sub specialty. I will always remember her feisty personality and her often demanding way when it came to the care of her patients. If sheer determination could cure illness then you would want her on your side. I am saddened to her of her passing.

Nicholas J. Petrelli, MD, FASCO

Mar, 03 2020 1:49 PM

As the saying goes "she shot from the hip" . There was no grey zone when Clara expressed her opinion . She commanded a room with her presence . She called me her " token surgeon " and  for those who really knew her , well that was a great compliment . She indeed will be missed but not forgotten in oncology .

Carol A. Westbrook, MD, PhD

Mar, 03 2020 3:00 PM

Clara was an an insightful scientist, and an extremely effective leader.  It was an honor for me to serve with her in CALGB.  She took a special interest in encouraging and inspiring women in academic medicine. She gave so much of herself to her work, but always let her human side come through. She will be missed. 

Carol A. Westbrook, M.D., Ph.D. 



Mark S. Robbins, MD

Mar, 03 2020 3:34 PM

I was a first year fellow attending my first ASCO annual meeting in 1980 and happened to attend Dr Bloomfield’s educational session on acute leukemia. That was the only time I believe I ever saw her in person but the intelligence and energy that she emitted is still bright in my memory 40 years later. My condolences to her family. Mark S Robbins MD Tampa, Fl

Neal Paul Christiansen, FACP, MD

Mar, 03 2020 4:48 PM

I had the pleasure of not only training as a fellow under Clara at the University of Minnesota and then again joining her a few years later as a junior faculty member at Roswell Park. She taught me the importance of approaching cancer as a science and to strive to continuously seek the best care for patients. Her influence on me has lasted throughout my career.  Even after we again separated I knew I could count on her for honest no nonsense advice. She will be remembered for her scientific advancements; I will remember her for he guidance and support. I always knew she would be there when I needed her. I will miss her greatly. 
Neal P Christiansen, MD

John M. Bennett, MD

Mar, 03 2020 5:08 PM

 It is with great sadness that I learned that Dr. Clara Bloomfield  had passed away on March 1, 2020. For close to 20 years we had interacted via the NCI’s Cancer Clinical Investigation Review Committee and the Cooperative Groups ( CALGB and ECOG) to promote and foster clinical trials in AML, focusing on subclassification (morphology and cytogenetics) to recognize responsive subsets to chemotherapy way back in the late 1970’s and 80’s. At every ASH meeting we would spend time updating progress as flow cytometry and molecular genetics became an integral component of finetuning AML diagnosis and prognosis.

Our last encounter was on the beach in San Diego in Dec. 2018; a chilly night, bundled up in ASH red blankets! We discussed how much progress had occurred with the Myeloid leukemias and how proud she was about her role.

Of course she will be missed greatly for both her administrative and clinical research skills but will “live on” from her numerous publications and achievements.

John M. Bennett, M. D.

Professor of Medicine and Pathology, Emeritus

University of Rochester Medical Center


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