New Investigator Spotlight: Austin Sim, MD, JD

June 25, 2024

Dr. Austin Sim is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Radiation Oncology at The Ohio State University, where he specializes in the management of hematologic and thoracic malignancies. He serves as the clinical lead of Hematology Radiation Oncology and the Director of Medical Student Education. He was the first student to complete the dual MD/JD program through the School of Medicine and the School of Law at the University of Virginia prior to his residency in Radiation Oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center, where he served as Chief Resident. He has research interests in MR-guided adaptive radiation therapy, combinations of radiation and cell and other novel systemic therapies in the management of hematologic malignancies, and leadership education/professional development. He serves on multiple committees through NRG Oncology, including Early Career and New Investigators, Radiation Oncology, Gastrointestinal Non-colorectal Core, and the Hematologic Working Group. He holds additional positions through SWOG as the Radiation Oncology Liaison to the Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplant Committee, a Council Member in the International Lymphoma Radiation Oncology Group, and as the inaugural Chair of the Early Career Committee and Ex-Officio member of the Board of Directors of ASTRO.


Q: What kind of research are you currently engaged with?

A: Clinically, my research interests are in optimizing combinations of radiation with novel systemic therapies, primarily in the management of hematologic malignancies. I was fortunate to be involved in early efforts to explore the role of bridging radiation prior to chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR T) therapy in the management of large B cell lymphomas.  I’ve continued these efforts as a part of the International Lymphoma Radiation Oncology Group (ILROG) CAR T Consortium. As we grow the activities of the Hematologic Working Group through NRG Oncology, I also serve multiple roles within SWOG, including as the radiation oncology liaison to the Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplant Committee, and hope to find synergies between organizations. Lastly, I am collaborating with my Hematology colleagues at The Ohio State University to develop early phase trials integrating radiation therapy into the CAR T paradigm.


Q: What is your proudest accomplishment so far in regard to your research/career?

A: I started my first faculty position nearly two years ago with multiple clinical interests, including gastrointestinal, hematologic, and thoracic malignancies. Although my initial intent was to focus on the former, the departure of a faculty member during the fifth month of my first year necessitated some shuffling. Since then, I serve as the de facto clinical lead for Hematologic Radiation Oncology at The Ohio State University and the primary radiation oncologist who works with our Division of Hematology’s nearly 50 clinicians. Through these collaborations, I have continued to build and expand our programs in peri-CAR T radiation, total body irradiation, and radiation for cutaneous lymphomas. I am still in the process of building out our research portfolio with my colleagues, but I am very excited for a number of upcoming early phase trials in development.


Q: What are you most interested in achieving through your research/career?

A: The advent of new systemic therapies and combinations have been revolutionary for patients with hematologic malignancies in recent decades with a concomitant reduction in the role for radiation therapy. However, radiation remains a powerful tool, waiting to be reoptimized in this new era. I see each new advance in systemic therapy as a new opportunity to recalibrate the role for radiation therapy. With the increasing use of cell therapy, immunotherapy, and bispecific therapy, the potential immunomodulatory effects of radiation therapy make it an ideal tool to explore augmenting responses to these novel therapies, rather than being relegated to only palliative or last-ditch salvage efforts. Although I am not a bench or translational scientist, I hope to be at the forefront of designing and running clinical trials of combined therapies to continue improving outcomes for patients with hematologic malignancies.


Q: What inspired you to become involved in cancer research and/or specifically your field?

A: I applied to medical school in the summer of 2010, just after the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Health policy was at the forefront of discussions at the time, and I realized even the best physicians can only do so much good for their patients within the four walls of a clinic if the whole system was dysfunctional. I saw health policy as a way to work to fix the system and pursued a dual degree program through the School of Law at the University of Virginia. As I developed my interests in advocacy and policy, I discovered radiation oncology as a field and clinical research as yet another way to more globally optimize patient care. During my residency training, I was lucky to find fantastic mentorship to pursue numerous clinical research projects and assist in the development of multiple trial concepts, including one in the management of locally advanced non-small cell lung cancer I was fortunate to develop at the AACR/ASCO Methods in Clinical Cancer Research Workshop. Although the subsequent COVID pandemic precluded me from implementing this concept, this experience cemented my interest in pursuing cancer research in addition to policy as part of a multi-pronged approach to more globally optimize patient care.


Q: What has been your experience engaging in the Radiation Oncology community and with RTOGF?

A: I have always been struck by the warmth and accessibility of everyone both in the Radiation Oncology community and within NRG Oncology and RTOGF. This applies to investigators I’ve interacted with across disease sites and representing all levels of seniority. As the widespread use of radiation therapy has fallen out of favor in the management of many hematologic malignancies at multiple institutions, the community of those of us who specialize in the management of these malignancies is smaller and tighter knit even still. Although my interaction specifically with RTOGF has been more limited, but with the new establishment of the NRG Oncology Hematologic Working Group and increasing infrastructure to support work to improve radiation for hematologic malignancies, I hope to become more involved and contribute to a robust clinical trial portfolio.

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