Get to know Dr Mesa

News | 10 months ago

World-renowned Oncology Expert to Lead Cancer Care and Education at Atrium Health

World-renowned hematologist, educator and chronic leukemia researcher Dr. Ruben A. Mesa joins Atrium Health to lead cancer care and education

Atrium Health recently welcomed Dr. Ruben A. Mesa as president and executive director of its cancer programs, which includes Atrium Health Levine Cancer Institute and Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Comprehensive Cancer Center. Mesa will also serve as vice dean for cancer programs at Wake Forest University School of Medicine

Mesa joins Atrium Health from the National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Mays Cancer Center at UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson, where he served as executive director, and UT Health Science Center in San Antonio, where he was a professor of medicine. 

In his new role, Mesa will oversee clinical operations, research, community outreach, education and diversity, equity and inclusion for cancer care at Atrium Health.

As a leader, Mesa is focused on helping all team members succeed in their roles

“Defeating cancer is a team sport,” he says. “Every individual plays a critical role.”


An Internationally Respected Hematology Researcher 

Mesa is internationally known for his work in hematology research. He has dedicated his career to studying treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs), a group of chronic leukemias that can lead to acute leukemia, bone marrow issues and premature death. 

He became interested in MPNs during medical school when the first patient he treated had the disease. After seeing her succumb to MPN, he was motivated to pursue chronic leukemia research. 

Since then, Mesa has led or co-led the development of six drugs in the past 11 years that have earned FDA approval for treating chronic leukemias. He has also served as principal investigator or co-principal investigator for more than 100 cancer clinical trials including numerous global phase three trials, the final steps before new treatments and drugs can be considered for widespread use. 

“What excites me is that the tools we have to battle against cancer are dramatically expanding,” says Mesa.

Mesa also serves in several national leadership roles within the American Association for Cancer Research, American Society of Hematology, American Association of Cancer Institutes and Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

He earned his bachelor’s degrees in nuclear engineering and physiology from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and earned his medical degree from the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science in Rochester, Minnesota. He completed his internal medicine residency and hematology/oncology fellowship at the Mayo Clinic. 


Reducing Health Disparities in Cancer Care 

Mesa’s parents immigrated to the United States from Cuba and raised him and his siblings in Chicago. As the first Latino leader of Atrium Health’s cancer care, Mesa is dedicated to addressing health disparities in cancer care, including access to preventive care, cancer screenings and clinical trials.

“One thing that makes our country great is its diversity,” Mesa says. I have the perspective of coming from an immigrant family and understanding the discrimination we have seen and felt. I’m also very sensitive to the experiences of other populations.”

In 2016, Atrium Health signed the American Hospital Association Equity of Care Pledge, demonstrating its commitment to eliminating health care disparities by serving populations that lack access to adequate health services. Atrium Health has also worked to improve clinical outcomes by reducing harm and avoiding readmissions; utilizing sophisticated technology, including predictive analytics and telehealth services; and engaging patients and families.

Atrium Health cares for over 20,000 individuals with newly diagnosed cancer each year. Mesa says treating patients at such a large scale allows physicians and researchers to take into account differences in race, ethnicity, social determinants of health, location, age, sex and overall health, as each factor plays a role in how individual cancers are treated. 

Atrium Health has cancer treatment hubs in Charlotte and Winston-Salem, along with over 20 regional locations, including Atrium Health Navicent Baldwin Cancer Treatment Center in Macon, Georgia, and Atrium Health Floyd Medical Center in Rome, Georgia. Mesa says the organization will focus on utilizing regional oncology sites to provide cancer care in a wide range of communities and to extend efforts in prevention and screening by working closely with primary care providers. 

“We know that if we catch cancer early, we have a dramatically better chance of controlling it,” says Mesa.

With the recent creation of Advocate Health from the combination of Atrium Health and Advocate Aurora Health, there is greater potential for more diverse clinical trials with a combined patient population of nearly 6 million patients.

“We have the unique opportunity to make scientific discoveries and then pilot our findings on a small scale,” says Mesa. “If they’re effective, we can implement them on a large scale. This concept of the academic learning health system is a really valuable one.”


Calling North Carolina Home 

On a more personal note, Mesa and his family look forward to making North Carolina their home. He and his wife, Kris, have two adult children. 

“My family and I are huge fans of barbecue, so we’re looking forward to the fantastic barbecue in North Carolina,” says Mesa. “We also love the fabulous beaches and mountains. It’s a beautiful state with a tremendous history.” 

In his free time, Mesa enjoys golfing, cycling and skiing and looks forward to enjoying all the state has to offer.

“I’m excited to be here,” Mesa says. 

Learn more about cancer care at Atrium Health.