Remembering Emil Freireich, Millie Hughes-Fulford, and more

Emil Freireich, MD

Remembering Emil Freireich (1927 – 2021)

Renowned hematologist and researcher Emil Freireich, MD, died on February 1, 2021, at the age of 93.

Dr. Freireich had worked at MD Anderson Cancer Center since 1965. Prior to that, he joined the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in 1955 and spent 10 years developing treatments for acute leukemias in children.

At MD Anderson, he helped form the Department of Developmental Therapeutics, where teams of scientists developed drug combinations for various hematologic malignancies. His most notable achievement was sending pediatric leukemia into remission with a combination of four chemotherapy drugs. As a result of Dr. Freireich’s developments, the survival rate for children with leukemia increased from 30% in 1972 to 90% today.

“He oversaw research across all cancers, guiding and dictating the evolution of protocols, implementing them and publishing results that were adopted around the world,” Hagop Kantarjian, MD, chair of the leukemia department at MD Anderson, told The New York Times. Dr. Freireich retired in 2015, but continued to teach and consult at the cancer center.

He is survived by his wife; two daughters, Debra and Lindsay; two sons, David and Tom; six grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.


Millie Hughes-Fulford, PhD

Remembering Millie Hughes-Fulford (1945 – 2021)

Millie Hughes-Fulford, PhD, died of lymphoma on February 2, 2021, at the age of 75.

As NASA’s first female payload specialist, she conducted biomedical experiments on the physical toll of microgravity during space travel on the human immune system and bone mass aboard the Columbia space shuttle in 1991. Dr. Hughes-Fulford would oversee experiments on five other shuttle flights, one Russian Soyuz spacecraft, and two SpaceX missions. In 2013, Dr. Hughes-Fulford earned an award from NASA for her work examining the causes of decreased T-cell activation in microgravity.

Dr. Hughes-Fulford ran her own laboratory within the San Francisco VA Medical Center, where she worked for 47 years. Her team of researchers discovered that, when there is no gravity, certain genes that activate T cells are greatly inhibited or do not switch on at all. Dr. Hughes-Fulford also was also a professor in the department of biochemistry and biophysics at the medical school of the University of California, San Francisco.

“Millie was joyous about science,” Carl Grunfeld, MD, associate chief of staff for research and development at the San Francisco VA Medical Center, said in an interview. “At one point during her illness, she proposed a different way to modify her chemotherapy and got a wonderful remission. When she told me about that, it was with the same joy about science as she had in the laboratory.”

Dr. Hughes-Fulford is survived by her daughter, two granddaughters, and a sister.


Benjamin L. Ebert, MD, PhD

Swedish Sjöberg Prize Awarded to Benjamin Ebert for Lenalidomide Research

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded Benjamin L. Ebert, MD, PhD, this year’s Sjöberg Prize for research on the mode of action of lenalidomide in the treatment of blood cancer. Dr. Ebert mapped the mechanism responsible for the substance’s ability to redirect proteins necessary for a cancer cell’s survival to its waste disposal, leading to the death of the cell.

Dr. Ebert is George P. Canellos, MD and Jean S. Canellos Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and chair of the department of medical oncology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts.

“So far, the greatest clinical benefit is in the treatment of multiple myeloma. Many of the proteins that drive cancer growth have proven difficult to target using pharmaceuticals. Benjamin Ebert’s discovery shows that it may be possible to direct such proteins so that they are degraded and thus stop the growth of the tumor,” said Bengt Westermark, PhD, chair of the Sjöberg Prize Committee.

The $1 million award includes $900,000 toward continued research and an additional $100,000 as a personal prize.

Source: The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences press release, February 15, 2021.


Ute Dugan, MD, PhD

Parker Institute Appoints Ute Dugan as Senior Vice President of Clinical Research

Ute Dugan, MD, PhD, has been appointed senior vice president of clinical research at the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy (PICI). In this role, she will oversee the institute’s clinical development, regulatory affairs, and translational medicine efforts.

Previously, Dr. Dugan held leadership roles at Bristol Myers Squibb and has practiced as a medical oncologist in Europe and the United States. Dr. Dugan’s research has focused on developing and integrating new cancer treatments for both solid tumor and hematologic malignancies.

“Dr. Dugan has been an incredible collaborator and champion of PICI’s mission over the last several years, and we’re excited to welcome her to our team,” said Sean Parker, PICI founder and chairman. “In addition to her work as a world-class cancer researcher, she also brings a passionate focus on the patient perspective, making sure that we always remember who we’re working for as we pioneer the next breakthroughs in immunotherapy.”

Source: PICI press release, February 16, 2021.


Stuart H. Orkin, MD

Stuart Orkin Receives 2021 Gruber Genetics Prize

Hematologist/oncologist and geneticist Stuart H. Orkin, MD, has received the 2021 Gruber Genetics Prize for his research on the genetic underpinnings of blood disorders. The prize is awarded to up to three leading scientists to recognize significant contributions to genetics research.

Among Dr. Orkin’s discoveries are the identification of many genetic mutations behind beta thalassemia and the identification of the gene BCL11A that controls the switch between fetal and adult hemoglobin near the time of birth. He is the David G. Nathan Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

“Dr. Orkin has led the field of hematology for more than 40 years,” said Eric Olson, PhD, professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and member of the Selection Advisory Board. “His work has been deeply mechanistic, groundbreaking, and impactful. Through a series of seminal discoveries, he has helped to unravel key molecular mysteries behind how blood cells develop and how inherited blood disorders occur.”

The $500,000 prize will be presented to Dr. Orkin at the American Society of Human Genetics Annual Meeting in October 2021.

Source: Yale/Gruber Foundation press release, March 2, 2021.