At Work: Leukemia Specialist Martin Tallman

pictured: Martin S. Tallman

Leukemia Specialist Martin Tallman

Martin S. Tallman , an internationally recognized expert in caring for patients with acute and chronic leukemias has been at the forefront of several key clinical trials that have led to new standards of care. He joined Memorial Sloan Kettering in 2010 as Chief of the Leukemia Service in the Department of Medicine, following a 21-year career at Northwestern University.

We asked Dr. Tallman how research has led to improvements in the treatment of leukemia and what challenges remain.

As Chief of the Leukemia Service, what are your top priorities?

I came to Memorial Sloan Kettering with a specific vision of what I thought it would take to develop the finest leukemia service in the world. Recruitment has been one of my top priorities, and we have added nine junior and senior faculty members since 2010. Adding more clinical trials is my second priority. There has never been such an explosion in our understanding of the pathogenesis of both acute and chronic leukemia, the number of novel agents with unique mechanisms of action, and other new strategies, including immunologic approaches.

A third priority is to foster interactions between laboratory scientists and clinical investigators. I think that if we can accomplish these goals, we will further distinguish this already very prestigious institution and make important contributions.

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How do you hope to build on Memorial Sloan Kettering’s rich history of developing effective leukemia therapies?

Since 2010, we have opened many clinical trials , all with important correlative laboratory science studies. The number of exciting new targeted molecules and therapies now available is unprecedented. I want to see our laboratory efforts increase to learn more about how these therapies work and to see them applied in well-designed, meaningful clinical trials. I think that’s the responsibility of our institution — not just to deliver pristine patient care, which we do, but also to develop new treatments that change the standards of care and improve the lives of patients.

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There has been an explosion of knowledge addressing the molecular genetics of acute and chronic leukemias. How is this area progressing, and how is it impacting patient care?

Our group has been at the forefront of identifying what have become so important now, which are the genetic abnormalities in a given leukemia cell and the relationship of those abnormalities to each other. These findings have begun to influence our treatment decisions. For example, physician-scientists Ross Levine and Omar Abdel-Wahab and their colleagues identified gene mutations in acute myeloid leukemia , or AML, and demonstrated the importance of their interactions in a large group of patients.

These advances are extremely important because certain gene relationships confer a very favorable prognosis — meaning we can decrease the intensity of a patient’s treatment and avoid unnecessary treatment — while others are associated with an unfavorable prognosis, indicating we should use new and hopefully more effective strategies. Other investigators at Memorial Sloan Kettering, including Michel Sadelain, Isabelle Rivière, Renier Brentjens, and Jae Park, are working to harness the ability of T cells to eradicate leukemia and have shown very encouraging results in patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

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What are the biggest challenges remaining in leukemia research?

The real challenge for the future is to develop a nimble infrastructure for the development and activation of clinical trials to evaluate new agents and other therapeutic strategies. It is a challenge to make important trials attractive and easier to conduct for patients and their treating physicians. While we still need more insight into what drives a leukemia cell and what turns a benign cell into a malignant one, a number of the major challenges aren’t so much scientific as logistical.

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What philosophy guides your care of patients?

I’ve long said that I like to imagine every patient is a member of my own family and to treat them accordingly. You find yourself thinking, “If this were my spouse or my brother or my child, would I really recommend a given therapy?” The patient may not respond to a certain treatment, but no healthcare professional makes anything but the best decisions for his or her own family. This way of thinking connects a doctor to a patient.

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What treatment advance drives home the improvement in treating leukemias today compared to just a decade or two ago?

Acute promyelocytic leukemia has emerged as the most highly curable subtype of AML. It’s very exciting — we can now cure about 85 to 90 percent of all patients. Historically, we have treated patients with this subtype of AML as we have all others, with induction chemotherapy and consolidation chemotherapy. Two decades ago, we began treating all patients with a vitamin A derivative called ATRA (all-trans-retinoic acid) plus chemotherapy.

In the last decade, we’ve also witnessed the development of a new formulation of the old drug arsenic trioxide. New studies show that treating patients with ATRA and arsenic trioxide, with minimal to no chemotherapy, has produced spectacular results. The cure rate is high, and we can also spare the patient from the side effects of chemotherapy.

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What do you hope to accomplish next?

My broad goals are to recruit more patients to well-designed clinical trials and to continue to link clinical trials with important correlative studies in the laboratory to elucidate the mechanisms by which effective treatments work. I sincerely hope that soon almost every patient will be on a clinical trial, and that we will be treating very few patients off-study.

Ultimately, we want to change the standard of care and to contribute to the cure of more patients with leukemia. We have initiated efforts to move consolidation therapy in AML completely to the outpatient setting. Furthermore, given the new, more potent antibiotics available, growth factor support, and comprehensive home care, we are developing a protocol to move induction therapy after initial chemotherapy to the outpatient setting.

We’ve made tremendous progress in treating several subtypes of leukemia, but for most patients with acute myeloid leukemia and acute lymphoblastic leukemia, we still have much work left to do.

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Commenting is disabled for this blog post.

I was wondering if someone with AML as well as gastroparesis, diabetes and Crohn's disease would be a candidate for your treatments.

Sorry the person I was referring to in the previous comment has meilofibrosis. Does that fall under the aml category? Can you provide treatment for someone with this disorder?

Danielle, it sounds like you might be referring to myelofibrosis, which our specialists definitely treat. If you would like to make an appointment with a Memorial Sloan Kettering physician, please call our Physician Referral Service at 800-525-2225 or go to

You can read more about our treatment of this disease at:…

Thanks for your comment.

In reading this wondering how my 65 yr old sister with AML can get to Sloan. The Drs at Duke have stopped chemo because she is not getting better. She doesn't have much strength as she's been in hospital for 5 weeks. It's not possible to just bring her for an appointment. She's a unique case as she started with Wegeners 8 yrs ago, diagnosed with MDS this past January and now it has progressed to AML. We are hoping to find someone to help her.

Laura, thank you for reaching out. If you would like to find out about making an appointment for your sister with a Memorial Sloan Kettering physician, please call our Physician Referral Service at 800-525-2225 or go to You or your sister can discuss with them the specific medical situation. Thanks for your comment.

My husband has AML and had a stem cell transplant in July 2014. He relapsed 3 weeks ago and is currently receiving intensive chemotherapy again. I am not feeling that the Doctors have a good plan to prevent another relapse or feel optimistic about his recovery. Is is possible to have his records reviewed for a second opinion or would we need to make an appointment to be seen at MSK?

My husband has AML and receved a stem cell transplant in July 2014. He relapsed 3 weeks ago and is again receiving intensive chemotherapy. I am not feeling that the doctors have a good plan or are feeling optimistic about his recovery. Is it possible to have someone review his records for a second opinion or would we have to make an appointment to be seen at MSK?

Mary, thank you for reaching out. If you contact our Physician Referral Service at 800-525-2225, someone will be able to answer your questions about obtaining a second opinion and whether an appointment to be seen at MSK is needed.

73 years old diagnosed with AML in Feb. 2015. 4 months of chemo - 5 days/week 1 hour/day of Decitabine followed by 10 days of Neupogen shots. Plateletts and red blood cells continue to be OK, but white blood cells not responding. Meeting with oncologist to discuss options - other chemo, clinical trials. Looking for 2nd opinion before proceeding. Suggestions?

Pat, thank you for reaching out. Unfortunately, we are unable to answer specific medical questions on our blog. If you would like to make an appointment with a Memorial Sloan Kettering physician, please call our Physician Referral Service at 800-525-2225 or go to Thanks for your comment.

Thanks to my fabulous doctors and fantastic teams ~ I am ALL cancer free for over 15 years now!!!
ALL that had spread to my spine and meninges layer of my brain!!!! Thanks from the bottom of my heart! Maria

Maria, we’re so glad to hear you’re doing well!

I am 82 years old, male, diagnosed with CLL. I am reluctant to undergo chemotherapy or take any harsh medication like bendamustin or ibrutinib. At Sloan Kettering do you treat CLL patients with alternative treatments like, diet, lifestyle changes, herbal or non-allopathic medicines without side effects, other integrative medicines, etc.?
I am located in Illinois. Is it possible to have a telephone discussion with one of your specialists before applying for admission there?
Thank you,
Tejendra Bose

Tejendra, we do not offer phone consultations for patients in other parts of the US, but if you’re interested in making an appointment to come to our center in New York, you can call 800-525-2225 or go to for more information on making an appointment. If you’d like to learn more about our approach to treating CLL, you can go to…. Depending on their overall health, we may offer chemotherapy to patients in their 80s. Thank you for your comment.

My close friend with ALL here in India has just relapsed after bone marrow transplant done six months ago. We are lookng for some doctor who is specifically working on experimental medicine for such treatment. His chemo has failed couple of days ago.

I have a special loved one who is 72 and has been diagnosed with cmml. Does Doctor tallman treat this leukemia disorder?

Dear Elaine, we are sorry to hear about your loved one’s diagnosis. Dr. Tallman is a hematologic oncologist who cares for people with all types of leukemia. You may learn more about his expertise and experience here: To browse through other oncologists in our Leukemia Service here:[0]=823. If you would like to make an appointment with any of our specialists, please call our Physician Referral Service at 800-525-2225. Thank you for reaching out to us.

I am in the treatment of aml in CA

Can I transfer to your hospital

My mother was diagnosed with aml and was interested in sending medical information in order to receive a doctor's opinion of martin tallman.
What is the way to do this? Can I get his e-mail ?

Dear Adi, we’re sorry to hear about your mother’s diagnosis. Unfortunately we are not able to give out our doctors’ email addresses on our blog. In addition, for patients within the US, we offer only in-person consultations. If your mother is in the US and would like to come to MSK for an appointment, you can call 800-525-2225 or go to for more information.

If your mother is outside the US, you can arrange to have her records reviewed by one of our doctors by mail. To do this, you can contact our International Center at or go to… for more information.

Thank you for your comment, and best wishes to you and your family.

My mom has tell lymphoma and was treated at Nyu but the doctors say they can't help her no more, what do. Allow them to prepare her to die or?

Dear Helen, we’re so very sorry to hear that your mother isn’t doing well. If she would like to come to MSK for an appointment to find out what treatment options may be available here, she can make an appointment online or call 800-525-2225. Thank you for your comment and best wishes to both of you.