Prominent physician, researcher and professor Dr. Leonidas C. Platanias’ leads Northwestern University’s Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Dr. Platanias’ visionary leadership has propelled the expansion and growth of Lurie Cancer Center, the top cancer center in Illinois.
Meet Dr. Platanias
Dr. Leonidas C. Platanias, 55, was born and raised in Athens, Greece, to parents from Agrinio and Kefalonia. From a young age, he dreamed of becoming a doctor.
“I couldn’t do anything else. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a doctor. I wanted to make a difference.”
He attended the University of Patras Medical School, where he earned his MD and PhD prior to moving to the U.S. in 1984. Dr. Platanias came to the States when he was awarded the Fogarty Fellow at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). There, he researched the mechanisms of the regulation of normal hematopoiesis bone marrow failure by cytokines.
“I was so lucky to get a position at NIH. I served as a research fellow and worked in the lab.”
Then it was on to the State University of New York, Downstate Center, where he completed his residency in 1989 in Internal Medicine. That same year, he arrived in Chicago, as a clinical and research fellow in Hematology-Oncology at the University of Chicago Hospitals. He stayed until 1992. There he was introduced to the field of interferon and cytokine signaling. He is Board certified in Internal Medicine and Medical Oncology.
He began his most distinguished career at Loyola University in 1992, where he established his own laboratory working on cytokine signaling pathways in malignant cells. At Loyola, he also embarked on his first academic position. In 1996, it was on to University of Illinois in Chicago (UIC), initially as Associate Professor and subsequently as Professor and Chief of the Division of Hematology-Oncology.
In 2002 he was appointed as the first Deputy Director of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University in Chicago, and Professor of Medicine and Lurie Family Professor of Oncology at the Feinberg School of Medicine of Northwestern University.
“This move was very exciting for me. I was still able to see patients, conduct my research, and teach at the Feinberg School of Medicine, as well be involved in the leadership of the Center.”
He became the interim director in January 2014, and the permanent director in October 2014.
He continues his molecular biology and biochemistry research focused on signaling pathways in cancer cells and efforts to develop novel treatments.
“My clinical specialty is acute leukemia, which is a very deadly type of tumor. My research work is also focused on leukemia but also other cancers, such as breast, kidney, and brain cancers.”
Related: Read more about Dr. Platanias’ cancer-focused research
Dr. Platanias serves on several editorial boards and in many research programs, and is the recipients of several awards and honors for his research. He is also a member of a new research foundation, founded by several local Greeks. Read further to learn more.
As director of Chicago’s largest cancer treatment center, Dr. Platanias takes an active role in fundraising, in addition to his administrative duties, research, and he see patients as well.
“Chicago is such a great city. I would like to see Chicago as a leader in personalized cancer care. We’ve initiated some programs here, involving sequencing tumors, which will help us to develop personalized therapies based on the genomic information that we have from each individual tumor. Every patient is different, and responds to treatment differently. This will help us work toward that goal.”
Under Dr. Platanias’ leadership, Lurie Cancer Center has risen from #21 in the U.S. to #17, and is the top cancer center in Illinois.
“Next year, we will raise further in the ranks — especially in the academic area, thanks to funding we received from the National Cancer Institute. Clinical care at Northwestern Memorial Hospital is in the top 10 of hospitals in the U.S. This is the place to be for cancer care.”
Investments in research and trials at Lurie, has led to the development of a new series of treatments for many different types of cancer. It’s their goal to continue to develop and implement new treatments.
“Today we have unprecedented opportunities to defeat cancer because of technology. It’s important to put together the resources in an innovative way to find out what causes cancer. Once we determine the cause, we can develop treatments to eradicate it.”
It is very important, Dr. Platanias stated, that a treatment center provide support services to help the “whole” patient. This is an important initiative he oversees at Lurie, which includes clinical support services, survivors’ programs that deal with the emotional consequences of the disease and treatment, and they continue to develop other services to help patients in their journey to healing — physically, emotionally, and socially.
Dr. Platanias is thrilled to serve as scientific director for this newly formed research foundation.
“This new initiative reflects the vision and commitment of our founder, Eleni Bousis. She is a great philanthropist who wants to do something to make a difference in the fight against cancer.”
Aptly named for Hippocrates, known as the Father of Medicine, the foundation aims to bring together Greek Americans in the fight against cancer. As the first Greek American serving as a cancer center director, he is uniquely poised to achieve this goal.
“We wish to bring together philanthropists, cancer doctors and researchers at the Lurie Cancer Center, to work in concert to find new cures for cancer. We hope to engage Greek Americans in this important effort; not just in Chicago, but around the country. Cancer will be defeated once and for all when doctors, scientists, and philanthropists work together as a team toward this common goal.”