WSU physicians named Heroes of Cancer

November 21, 2017

The Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute presented its 2017 Heroes of Cancer at an awards ceremony Nov. 15, recognizing champions in 15 award categories. Nearly 200 guests attended the evening reception held at the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center, in Detroit. Ann Delisi, radio/television personality and host of Ann Delisi’s Essential Music on WDET 101.9 FM, served as emcee.

Justin Klamerus, M.D., MMM, president of Karmanos Cancer Hospital, reiterated the importance of acknowledging those who champion for all cancer survivors.

“Karmanos focuses solely on cancer and treats more than 200 types of this disease, which is why we are pleased to expand our Heroes recognition,” Dr. Klamerus said. “There are many who have supported Karmanos and those we serve, whether it be through philanthropy, community service or media stories; those who create research that paves the way to develop new treatments; employees whose expertise and compassion is felt by our patients; and those who have shown great courage in the fight against all cancers.

“As proud as I am of what we do at Karmanos, we know this fight to end cancer is a team effort. Progress happens because there are people working on this from all directions, including the Heroes we honor. It will take all of us working together to end cancer for good.”

The awards included:

The Dr. Michael J. Brennan Scientific Distinction Award was presented to Anthony Shields, M.D. Ph.D., associate center director of Clinical Sciences for the Karmanos Cancer Institute and professor of Oncology for the Wayne State University School of Medicine. The award recognizes demonstrated leadership in basic or clinical cancer research.

Dr. Shields is among the elite group of cancer specialists at Karmanos Cancer Institute who generate groundbreaking work that translates into improved ways of detecting cancer so that effective therapies can be given to fight the disease.

“I am very honored to receive the Heroes of Cancer Michael J. Brennan Scientific Distinction Award for the work that my colleagues and I have been doing to develop new ways to image and treat cancer,” he said. “As always, we are inspired by our patients to improve our understanding of cancer and to find better treatments.”

Dr. Shields was recognized for his leadership in developing positron emission tomography imaging technology, specifically a radioactive drug known as a tracer, to monitor changes in tumor tissue. A PET scan is an imaging test that helps reveal how tissues and organs are functioning and is particularly useful in revealing or evaluating conditions, such as cancer, heart disease and brain disorders. Dr. Shields developed a special tracer, known as FLT, in 1998, to detect dividing cells. Since then, FLT has been used in studies around the world to measure and study tumor proliferation.

Dr. Shields is respected by his peers and recognized as a distinguished leader in PET imaging and PET tracer studies. His development of novel PET tracers to measure tumor metabolic activities is listed in the History of Research Achievement at Karmanos Cancer Institute, with broad impact on cancer diagnosis and therapy.

The inaugural Dr. Gloria Heppner Innovative Science Award, which honors an individual and/or organization that has proven success with innovative initiatives that help advance cancer research, was presented to the award’s namesake, Gloria Heppner, Ph.D., retired associate vice president of the Division of Research for Wayne State University.

“What an extraordinary honor,” said Dr. Heppner, who also served as a professor of Internal Medicine and assistant dean for Cancer Programs for the WSU School of Medicine. “The Karmanos Cancer Institute, and before that the Michigan Cancer Foundation, are known worldwide for innovation and quality. This has always been a team effort.”

A trailblazer in cancer research, Dr. Heppner’s work to advance the understanding and treatment of cancer is still referred to by scientists around the world. Last year, she was recognized by Cancer Research, the official journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, for publishing one of the 48 most influential scientific articles in the 75-year history of the journal. In that article, she revealed the heterogeneous nature of cancer that sets the foundation of today’s treatment strategies.

Dr. Heppner began her career in the 1960s. She earned her undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees from the University of California Berkley; conducted post-operative research at the University of Washington in Seattle; and was associate professor of Pathology at Brown University before moving to Detroit in 1979. She was hired as chair of Immunology and later became scientific director, as well as professor of the Michigan Cancer Foundation, now known as Karmanos Cancer Institute. After several decades of incredibly innovative research, Dr. Heppner led research for Wayne State University by serving as the associate vice president for Research until her retirement last year. She mentored many junior scientists to become leaders in cancer research.

Karmanos’ President/Chief Executive Officer Gerold Bepler, M.D., Ph.D., and chair of the WSU Department of Oncology, said, “Dr. Heppner has made an indelible mark on cancer research and we are fortunate to have her contributions, which have shaped what we know today about tumor biology, diagnosis and treatment. She exemplifies the research excellence for which the Michigan Cancer Foundation was known and the legacy Karmanos Cancer Institute carries on today and into the future.”

The Ribbon Champion Award, presented to an individual and/or group demonstrating an unwavering commitment to improve education, screening and treatment of a certain type of cancer to encourage prevention while increasing survivorship and advocating to advance cancer research was given to Elisabeth Heath, M.D. F.A.C.P. and Isaac Powell, M.D.

“I am extremely honored to receive this award,” said Dr. Heath, leader of the Genitourinary Oncology Multidisciplinary Team, associate center director of Translational Sciences and the Patricia C. and E. Jan Hartmann Endowed Chair for Prostate Cancer Research for the Wayne State University School of Medicine and the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute. “It is a true privilege to work with our outstanding cancer advocates and I look forward to meaningful contributions in the future.”

Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths among males in the United States. One in seven men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer within their lifetime. African-American men have a nearly two-fold higher mortality rate compared to Caucasian men. African-American men often present with higher PSA levels and more advanced disease. The reason for this disparity is not well understood. So, how do you help raise awareness of the importance of prostate cancer screening among men who are often hesitant to go to the doctor or even start the conversation about their health? That’s been a mission of prostate cancer experts Dr. Heath and Dr. Powell for many years. Their commitment and determination to encourage men to be more proactive about their health helped fuel the creation of what would become one of the model advocacy programs in the nation. The Karmanos Prostate Cancer Advocacy Program – also referred to as PCAP – was created in 2009 and is led by Dr. Heath. Advocates are prostate cancer survivors and caregivers who volunteer their time to further strengthen Karmanos’ community-based education and outreach efforts, especially among African-American men and their families. They talk about the risk of prostate cancer, stressing the importance of seeing a healthcare provider annually to help prevent the disease or detect it early when it’s most treatable. There are 10 advocates who have gone through extensive training to help educate the public. Advocates also work with Karmanos and Wayne State scientists to gain a better understanding of prostate cancer research and the elements needed for the grant process; and attend meetings with government officials to help encourage prostate cancer legislation.

Recently, cancer experts from across the country gathered for a national prostate cancer summit hosted by Karmanos and witnessed first-hand the breadth and depth of PCAP and the engagement of its prostate cancer advocates.

“I am extremely honored to receive the Heroes of Cancer award for my many years at Karmanos Cancer Institute educating the community in collaboration with prostate cancer survivors as advocates as they shared their experience with this potentially lethal disease,” said Dr. Powell, professor of Urology for the WSU School of Medicine and Karmanos.

150 years in the heart of Detroit