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Meet Our Researchers; Math, Science Good Combination for Calip

Greg Calip knows the medical histories of thousands of patients but he’s never treated any.

A biostatistician and epidemiologist, Calip, a member of the University of Illinois Cancer Center and assistant professor of pharmacy systems, outcomes and policy in the UIC College of Pharmacy, is conducting research on how to prevent venous thromboembolism in patients suffering from multiple myeloma.

The second most common blood cancer after non-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma is a cancer that forms in plasma cells – white blood cells that help fight infections by making antibodies that recognize and attack germs. Multiple myeloma causes cancer cells to accumulate in the bone marrow, where they crowd out healthy blood cells. Rather than produce helpful antibodies, the cancer cells produce abnormal proteins that can cause complications. Multiple myeloma patients have a greater risk of producing blood clots following diagnosis and treatment.

“Race, multiple myeloma and anti-cancer treatments are independent risk factors for venous thromboembolism,” said Calip, who was recently awarded a two-year $440,000 grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute for his study. “How these factors together affect the long-term risk of VTE among multiple myeloma patients are not known. That’s what we want to figure out.”

Calip and his research team will analyze data from 5,000 patients contained in a database linking cancer registry information with Medicare beneficiaries and a pooled cohort study of patients at UIC and the University of Chicago to determine why multiple myeloma patients develop blood clots following their cancer treatments. The study is the first step in hopes of one day developing prevention strategies, treatment options and conducting clinical trials.

“The databases contain hundreds of thousands of patients, but we’re especially interested in elderly and racial and ethnic minority patients,” Calip said. “The risk of developing multiple myeloma increases as people age, and black patients have a two- to three-fold higher incidence of the disease.” Cancer disparities among African Americans and other underserved populations is the cornerstone of the UI Cancer Center’s mission.

It is estimated that more than 30,200 adults (nearly 17,500 men and more than 12,700 women) will be diagnosed with multiple myeloma in the U.S. this year, with more than 12,500 deaths occurring. The study, Calip said, is unique in that it will be the first to determine racial differences in long-term treatment related cardiotoxicity in multiple myeloma patients using both population-based data and underrepresented minority patients in clinical trials.

A native of Chicago, Calip received his undergraduate and doctor of pharmacy degree from UIC. Having an interest in both math and science, he left his job as a pharmacist to enroll in the biostatistics and epidemiology programs at New York University. Upon earning his master’s degree from NYU, Calip entered the PhD program at the University of Washington, where he graduated and performed a postdoctoral research fellowship at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

In addition to his work with multiple myeloma, Calip is assisting on a grant studying the dental prescribing of opioids and antibiotics, and has submitted a grant to study breast cancer patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

“I loved working as a pharmacist and I’ll always consider that pharmacy perspective in my research as an epidemiologist,” Calip said. “Cancer research is my passion, and I’m very motivated to do work that will help cancer survivors. I feel like this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”