Dr. Heppner honored for writing one of the most influential articles in history of Cancer Research

April 12, 2016

Cancer Research, the premier journal published by the American Association for Cancer Research, is celebrating its 75-year history. As part of the celebration, the magazine recently honored 48 of the most influential scientific articles in its history. Gloria Heppner, Ph.D., associate vice president for research at Wayne State University, was selected as one of the 48 outstanding researchers for her 1984 article “Tumor Heterogeneity,” which was described as being “more often highlighted by editors, AACR Fellows, and cancer researchers than any other (article).”

According to a special Cancer Research commentary written by Danny Welch, Ph.D., associate director of Basic Science at the University of Kansas Cancer Center, older literature is often overlooked or ignored because of lack of ease to access older articles not available on PubMed. Dr. Welch said the longevity of Dr. Heppner’s article is due to her “clarity of thought, objective presentation, and interpretation of the data, and, as importantly, by the insights that have withstood the tests of time.”

Dr. Heppner, who has served as a professor of Internal Medicine and assistant dean for Cancer Programs for the School of Medicine, thought the article had been long forgotten until about two years ago, when researchers began renewing their interest in the concept that cancer is a disease that involves a system, with subpopulations within tumors. Those subpopulations act differently within a tumor, making diagnosis and treatment challenging.

“This honor is stunning to me,” Dr. Heppner said upon learning of the recognition. “I worked hard on the article and it went over big. We went well over 1,000 reprints. I always felt it was my best article.”

“Gloria was clearly ahead of her time in the ’70s and ’80 with her contributions to cancer research,” said Stephen Lanier, Ph.D., vice president for Research at Wayne State University. “However, her contributions and spirit go far beyond the laboratory and research programs. She also has an unwavering commitment to nurturing creative initiatives in the humanities and arts. She has done an exceptional job in conceptualizing programmatic initiatives involving team science across what at first glance may seem somewhat disparate areas. These initiatives will most certainly bear fruit for years to come.”

Dr. Heppner began her cancer research career in the 1960s, and arrived in Detroit in 1979, joining the Michigan Cancer Foundation, now the Karmanos Cancer Institute. She joined the Office of the Vice President for Research at Wayne State University in 2003.

“One of Gloria’s signature contributions is the establishment of the Komen Detroit Race for the Cure here at the Karmanos Cancer Institute,” Dr. Lanier said. “This initiative, now in its 25th year, has benefitted a number of breast cancer victims and assisted with many research initiatives. Gloria was a major person to make this important event happen right here in Detroit.”

150 years in the heart of Detroit