The American Society of Hematology’s (ASH) longest-running award program, the ASH Scholar Award, celebrates more than 30 years of financially supporting fellows and junior faculty as they transition from training programs to careers as independent investigators. Since 1985, ASH has contributed over $41 million in Scholar Award grants and has provided 377 Scholar Awards. This is money well-spent – award recipients have conducted research that has transformed standards of care and furthered scientific knowledge. More than 1,200 National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants received by awardees were classified as having public health relevance.
The type of research funded by this program has changed over the years. In 2002, the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation collaborated with ASH to include clinical/translational research awards in addition to traditional basic science awards. As the number of applications increased, so did the size of the awardee cohorts. In 2008, ASH doubled its support by accepting 25 scholars.
For many of the recipients, research started with funding from the program has continued throughout their careers. In a list of scholars’ top five most substantive non-NIH grants, over half (55.8%) were related to the research initially funded by the ASH Scholar Award. This is certainly the case for Maria E. Figueroa, MD, who received the ASH Scholar Award in 2004 shortly after joining the lab of Ari Melnick, MD, then at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. Reflecting on her limited prior training and the fact that she had no publications when she received the award, Dr. Figueroa said, “ASH took a chance on us. They saw the potential of what I think was a visionary project.” Dr. Figueroa’s research with Dr. Melnick focused on the characterization of epigenetic deregulation in myeloid malignancies.
Dr. Figueroa is now an associate professor at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, where she has been able to continue her work in the field of epigenetic regulation of normal and malignant hematopoiesis. “It certainly is a follow-up to the ASH award,” she said.
The ASH Scholar Award allows people to conduct high-risk or unusual research projects that might not have been funded elsewhere. This type of initial support often leads to continued investigation. According to Ivan Maillard, MD, of the University of Michigan Center for Stem Cell Biology: “With help from the ASH Scholar Award, I uncovered and characterized a new role for the Notch signaling pathway in the regulation of pathogenic T cells that mediate graft-versus-host disease after allogeneic bone marrow transplantation. These findings have profound translational and immunobiologic significance, and they have given rise to an innovative research program that is currently in full swing.”
For many scholars, the award program shaped their research and helped to launch their careers.
Emmanuelle Passegué, PhD, from the Hematology/Oncology Division in the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at the University of California San Francisco, commented that the ASH Scholar Award helped to establish her lab in the field of normal and malignant hematology. “It jumpstarted my research into the basic biologic mechanisms controlling myeloid differentiation from hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) in stress, disease, and aging conditions. I am now using these discoveries as a springboard to identify new therapeutic strategies interfering with HSC differentiation pathways to treat human leukemia,” she said.
Gary Gilliland, MD, PhD, president and director of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, received the award in the 1990s and also attributes it to his early success as a researcher. “The ASH Scholar Award was the single most important grant in support of my early career development. I would not be where I am today as president and director of Fred Hutch without the vote of confidence that I received from ASH so many years ago,” he said. Dr. Gilliland offered insight into why the award is such an important touchstone in people’s careers: “One corollary that enables collaboration is that the award is positioned at a perfect time in a person’s career. If that person is bright and collaborative, it provides a platform for developing it. It gives you freedom and confidence in yourself at a time when you desperately need it. You have someone who believes in you. The resources give you a chance to do things you might not have otherwise done.”
Dr. Gilliland has mentored a number of ASH Scholar Award recipients, including Ross Levine, MD, from the Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Like his mentor, Dr. Levine continues the tradition of giving back. “I’ve had the opportunity at least twice to be on the panel to choose ASH scholars. I’ve also had the opportunity to mentor three people getting the ASH Scholar Award. So, for me, having been mentored by someone who was an ASH scholar, having been an ASH scholar, and now mentoring another scholar is all about paying it forward. In my case, it’s really a three-generation experience. I’m quite hopeful that my trainees will train future ASH scholars.”
Dr. Gilliland and Dr. Levine are not alone in their efforts to work with other ASH Scholar Award recipients. Two-thirds of the awardees have collaborated with at least one other awardee. In addition to mentoring, awardees have become involved in ASH in various capacities. Many said the program was their first meaningful interaction with ASH, and it strengthened their relationship with the Society.
Referencing the monetary benefits of the award, former ASH President Linda J. Burns, MD, said, “The money is one thing. It supports your research, it gets you started, and leads to more independent funding and recognition from ASH. But, it makes you personally feel connected to the Society, and it’s hard to put a dollar amount on that.” Robert A. Brodsky, MD, expressed a similar sentiment: “I think it was my entrée into the Society. I’ve stayed very involved with ASH throughout the years. I think the ASH Scholar Award really put a good taste in my mouth, and I’m the co-scientific chair of the meeting this year. I’m on the Program Committee. There’s no question that this has paid dividends for me, and I hope for ASH, too.”
FIGURE. ASH Scholar Award Co-Authorship Map
Scholar awardees with 10 or more papers were plotted on this map. The lines on the map indicate researchers who have been co-authors with other Scholar awardees, and the more co-authorships one has, the larger his or her circle appears. The colors are clusters in which the computer program indicated a high degree of co-authorship. Those who do not have any co-authorships do not appear on the map. The network is composed of 68 percent of all Scholar Award recipients, with a total of 910 links between awardees, illustrating the power of mentorship and collaboration among the ASH Scholar community.
ASH Scholar Awards By the Numbers
In the past 30 years, Scholar awardees have gone on to be awarded more than $1 billion from various funding institutions, including:
- more than $930 million in NIH funding
- more than $120 million in non-NIH grants
In the last three years, or since receiving the Scholar Award, half of program alumni reported the following achievements:
- publishing 2,300+ manuscripts and +250 books
- attending 1,250+ professional meetings
- presenting 1,400+ presentations on their research
- receiving 80 patents