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Nabil Adra, MD, was named to the IBJ 2024 Forty Under 40 for his work in genitourinary cancer treatment and research. He aims to carry IU's legacy as a leader in testis and others genitourinary cancers into the future.

Adra’s impact: IU genitourinary oncologist named to IBJ ‘Forty Under 40’

Larry Einhorn and Nabil Adra pose together, both wearing suits and ties, inside a restaurant

Lawrence Einhorn, MD, was a key mentor for Nabil Adra, MD, in genitourinary cancer treatment and research.

Lawrence Einhorn, MD, is known worldwide as the physician who discovered the cure for testicular cancer. So, when he wrote a letter calling Nabil Adra, MD, his onetime mentee, “a world leader in all areas of genitourinary oncology” who is “unique in his intelligence, empathy, leadership skills and innovation,” the selection committee for the Indianapolis Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 took notice.

With nominations from Einhorn and other colleagues at Indiana University School of Medicine, Adra, 38, secured a spot on IBJ’s annual list of “rising stars.” Adra is an associate professor of clinical medicine and urology and service line leader of medical oncology for the Division of Hematology/Oncology at IU and is the medical co-director of the IU Health Simon Cancer Center.

“A lot of what I am today — and I’m sure it is the same for many oncologists across the country and in the world who trained here (at IU) — we owe a lot of our career success to Larry Einhorn,” Adra said. “He’s probably the most famous oncologist in the world, but his most important legacy is all the people that he has trained over the decades.”

Now Adra feels the weight of carrying that legacy forward and training the next generation of genitourinary oncologists.

Nabil Adra stands behind a podium with colleagues Clint Cary and Tim Masterson at an American Urological Association event.“It’s a huge responsibility,” he said. “We are continuing to do research, conduct clinical trials and develop new treatments to keep IU at the forefront of being the No. 1 testis cancer center in the world.”

But he doesn’t want to stop there. Adra wants IU to be a global leader in treating all genitourinary cancers, including prostate, bladder and kidney cancers.

His own research focuses mainly on prostate cancer. Adra has published more than 50 studies and has presented at national and international conferences. Recently, he agreed to a three-year commitment serving on the American Society of Clinical Oncology Scientific Committee for Genitourinary Cancers. He is a member of the Experimental and Developmental Therapeutics research program at the IU Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“Whether it’s through immunotherapy, targeted chemotherapy or newer, genetically targeted therapies, we hope to offer better responses and a higher rate of cure,” Adra said.


‘Stay hungry, stay humble.’

Patrick Loehrer and Nabil Adra stand side by side, wearing suits, inside a restaurantOne of the most important things Einhorn taught him was to “stay hungry — but stay humble.” Adra acts upon his mentor’s advice every day by prioritizing people and relationships as the team works together to discover more cures.

“Dr. Adra is typically the first to arrive at work in the morning and one of the last to leave at the end of the day,” said Patrick Loehrer Sr., MD, an IU Distinguished Professor and director of the Center for Global Oncology and Health Equity at the cancer center. He called Adra a “servant leader” who puts his patients and colleagues ahead of his own ambitions.

Paul Helft, MD, the Allan S. Manalan and Diane K. Werth Professor of Medicine at IU School of Medicine, was impressed by the professionalism and dedication Adra exhibited as a trainee before joining the faculty in 2017.

“I remember Nabil as perhaps the most efficient resident I had ever had the pleasure of working with in many years of service at IU Health University Hospital,” Helft wrote in his nomination letter. “He has brought the same passion and dedication to his administrative role as the leader of our oncology service line.”

Nabil Adra stands with his wife, Lana Dbeibo, and holds his IBJ award plaque at the IBJ recognition event for 2024 honorees.As honored as Adra felt to have his work called out by Einhorn, Helft and Loehrer, he noted that the person who initiated the nomination was a member of his cancer center team, Stephanie Schneck, PharmD.

“She is somebody on the ground, at the forefront to medical care, who sits in clinic with me,” Adra said. “To know she appreciated my work makes me proud.”

Schneck said she nominated Adra “because of how deeply he cares for the community of patients, nurses, pharmacists, doctors and administrative staff he surrounds himself with.” Despite the numerous publications, presentations and awards on Adra’s curriculum vitae, he remains humble, kind and devoted to both his colleagues and his family, said Schneck.

Adra is married to Lana Dbeibo, MD, a previous Forty Under 40 honoree who is the medical director for infection prevention at IU Health Methodist Hospital and the associate vice chair for clinical affairs for the Department of Medicine and an associate professor of clinical medicine at IU School of Medicine.

Lana Dbeibo and Nabil Adra with their two small children on their laps, in front of a Christmas treeThe couple immigrated to the United States from Beirut, Lebanon, in 2011, becoming Hoosiers when they came to IU for internal medicine residency and later their respective fellowship programs. Adra was eager to train at one of the top programs in the world in hematology and oncology. He stayed on as faculty because he found not only brilliant clinicians, like Einhorn, but also people who were generous and eager to develop next-generation oncologists.

During the pandemic, Dbeibo led IU’s COVID-19 vaccination initiative — while pregnant with their first child. The couple’s second child was born in January 2022. Now Adra and Dbeibo are experts in organization as these high-achieving, physician parents manage an active household with preschoolers.

“We manage our time well and share responsibilities at home,” Adra said.


‘Stay positive.’

The life of an oncologist has dark days when a cure doesn’t come for a patient. Adra is often inspired by his patients’ positivity and generosity.

Nabil Adra with Hartnagel family members, wearing Stay Positive sweatshirts, and IU Health staff, at the cancer center, holding an oversized donation check“We learn a lot from scientific literature, but honestly, you learn more from patients and their families,” Adra said. “I had a patient, Ralph Hartnagel, and now his son Michael has started a foundation called Metastatic Mission with the motto: ‘Stay Positive.’ It really resonated with me. In the field of oncology, we see a lot of tragedy. Staying positive and hopeful that we can make a difference is important.”

He also was moved by the generosity of another patient, Gerald Throgmartin, who donated $500,000 to establish the W. Gerald Throgmartin Prostate Cancer Research Fund in Adra’s honor as his oncologist. It’s part of a total $1.5 million gift supporting cancer and cardiology research and education at IU School of Medicine.

Philanthropic gifts are important to the ultimate goal: discovering more cures.

The IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center offers access to potentially lifesaving clinical trials for numerous types of cancers, including a clinical trial option for every patient with a genitourinary cancer.

Nabil Adra and Nasser Hanna, MD, stand alongside charitable donors Gerald and Diane Throgmartin“We have multiple clinical trials that are only available at five or six cancer centers in the country,” Adra said. “The general population will not have access to these innovative treatments for another six years, or even a decade. People come from outside of Indianapolis, from all over Indiana and from the entire country, for those clinical trials.”

Building a team of experts who truly enjoy working together is key to advancement, Adra said. He organizes frequent social outings for his genitourinary oncology team, including a holiday party he and Dbeibo hosted with over 50 people at their home.

“I’m not a fan of hierarchy,” he said. “It’s never about one person. The important thing is to have the institutional ability to carry on this leadership and have IU remain at the forefront of testis cancer and all genitourinary cancers.”

Jennifer King, MD, first met Adra when she was a second-year resident at IU and sought his advice on pursuing a fellowship in oncology.

“The research opportunities and career development activities I participated in were all initiated with his mentorship,” said King, now an assistant professor of clinical medicine. “I truly owe my career achievements to his mentorship and guidance.”

King works with Adra on research that led to a clinical trial for what could be the first non-chemotherapy targeted therapeutic agent for germ-cell tumor (a growth of reproductive cells that can be cancerous). Their team has published its findings in high-impact journals including The Journal of Clinical Oncology and JAMA Oncology.

Nabil Adra headshot“He creates a team that you want to be part of and leads with integrity, adaptability and compassion,” King said.

Postdoctoral research fellow Rebecca Hassoun, MD, said Adra enthusiastically shares his knowledge and empowers his mentees to step into roles of responsibility.

“He always elevates those around him, creating an amazing environment for growth and success,” she said.

For Adra, it’s all about developing the next generation of oncologists who will discover new cures for cancer.

“We have a lot of young faculty members in our division, and our priority should be developing those people so that they are able to carry on the legacy at IU,” he said.

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Laura Gates

Laura is senior writer with the Office of Strategic Communications and loves to tell the stories of outstanding students, faculty and staff at IU School of Medicine. A native Hoosier, she has over 25 years of experience in communications, having worked with newspapers and other media organizations in Indiana and Florida, along with small businesses, community groups and non-profit organizations. Before joining IU School of Medicine in January 2020, she was editor-in-chief of a lifestyle magazine serving the community of Estero, Florida.

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.