Vijay Sankaran Receives Weill Cornell’s Children’s Health Research Award, Scripps Researchers Receive Nearly $3 Million to Study CLL, and more

Remembering Frank “Len” Johnson (1945 – 2017) 

Frank Leonard “Len” Johnson, MD, a pediatric hematologist/oncologist, passed away on December 24, 2017, after a brief illness.

Growing up in Australia, Dr. Johnson graduated from the University of Sydney and moved to the U.S. in 1971 to pursue his oncology fellowship at the University of Washington in Seattle. While there, he became the first pediatrician on the pioneering bone marrow transplant team of E. Donnall Thomas, MD. He returned to Australia to establish the first oncology/bone marrow transplant program at the Children’s Hospital in Sydney.

In 1975, Dr. Johnson helped establish pediatric oncology and bone marrow transplantation programs at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, at the University of Chicago, and at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) in Portland. While there, he was appointed chairman of pediatrics at the OHSU School of Medicine and physician in chief at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. Dr. Johnson also became president of the American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology and of the North Pacific Pediatric Society.

Wadih Arap Named Director of Rutgers Cancer Institute 

Wadih Arap, MD, PhD, is the new director for Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. Dr. Arap also will serve as chief in the division of hematology/oncology in the department of medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

Previously, he acted as chief of the hematology/oncology division and deputy director at the University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Dr. Arap aims to build on the goals of enhancing clinical trial access to patients in the region, as well as expanding community outreach, education, and screening programs. Dr. Arap assumes the director role from interim director Susan Goodin, PharmD.

Source: Rutgers Cancer Institute press release, February 12, 2018.

Vijay Sankaran Receives Weill Cornell’s Children’s Health Research Award 

Vijay Sankaran, MD, PhD, a pediatric hematologist and oncologist at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, received the third annual Gale and Ira Drukier Prize in Children’s Health Research. Dr. Sankaran also is assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.

The award (established in 2014 as part of a $25 million gift to Weill Cornell Medicine) honors an early-career pediatrician whose research has made important contributions toward improving the health of children and adolescents. Dr. Sankaran’s research focuses on inherited blood diseases, including sicklecell disease and thalassemia.

“[Dr. Sankaran’s work] on the causes of genetic blood disorders and his work to translate those findings into new treatments have provided hope to children suffering from these diseases and their families,” said Augustine M.K. Choi, MD, dean of Weill Cornell Medicine, in a press release.

Source: Weill Cornell Medicine press release, February 28, 2018.

Roswell Park Names New Director for Its Center for Personalized Medicine 

Agnieszka Witkiewicz, MD, has been appointed director of the Center for Personalized Medicine at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, New York. She will also serve as the chief of research and biobanking in the center’s department of pathology.

Before joining Roswell Park, Dr. Witkiewicz acted as vice chair of the department of pathology and director of tissue acquisition and cellular/molecular analysis shared resource at the University of Arizona.

Her research interests include identifying mechanisms that drive the invasive progression of cancer. At the Center for Personalized Medicine, Dr. Witkiewicz and her team will use next-generation sequencing technologies to identify patients’ unique genetic profiles and inform treatment decisions. As the inaugural chief of research and biobanking, she will continue conducting critical cancer research and enhancing cancer specimen acquisition for research.

Source: Roswell Park press release, April 9, 2018.

Scripps Researchers Receive Nearly $3 Million to Study CLL 

The National Cancer Institute awarded Christoph Rader, PhD, associate professor at The Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter, Florida, a $2.875 million, five-year grant to develop antibody-drug conjugates to treat chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).

With this grant, Dr. Rader hopes to identify additional antibody targets for CLL treatment, expanding on earlier research in which his team discovered FCMR, a binding site on the surface of CLL lymphocytes.

Dr. Rader also will work with chemists from Scripps Research, including Assistant Professor Hans Renata, PhD, and Professor Emeritus William Roush, PhD, to devise a linking molecule that attaches the drug payload to the antibody.

Source: Scripps Research Institute press release, April 10, 2018.

NYU Langone’s Pediatric Program Recruits New Director 

NYU Langone and Perlmutter Cancer Center has appointed Elizabeth A. Raetz, MD, as director of the division of pediatric hematology and oncology. She also will act as medical director of the Stephen D. Hassenfeld Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders.

Previously, Dr. Raetz served as a faculty member at NYU Langone and was most recently director of the Leukemia Program at Primary Children’s Hospital and the University of Utah, and an investigator at Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City. Her research focuses on strategies to improve outcomes for patients with acute lymphocytic leukemia, specifically children with recurrent and high-risk forms of the disease.

Source: NYU Langone Health press release, April 26, 2018.

AACR Names New President-Elect 

Elaine R. Mardis, PhD, was elected 2018-2019 president of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). She will begin her term in April 2019. Dr. Mardis is the Nationwide Foundation Endowed Chair in Genomic Medicine and is coexecutive director of the Institute for Genomic Medicine at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and professor of pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.

Her research centers on the genomic characterization of cancer and its implications for treatment.

Dr. Mardis spent much of her early career at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, as a professor, researcher, and eventually co-director of the McDonnell Genome Institute. Until her term as president begins, she will continue to serve on the AACR Board of Directors and as a senior editor of the AACR journal Molecular Cancer Research.

“I am humbled and excited by the AACR election result and I look forward to the opportunity to serve as the president of an organization whose vision and goals I have championed for many years,” Dr. Mardis said in a press release announcing the appointment.

Source: AACR press release, March 20, 2018.