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WSU faculty among 2018 Heroes of Cancer award recipients

December 04, 2018

The Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute honored its 2018 Heroes of Cancer recipients at a recent awards ceremony, marking the institutes’ 24th year of recognizing individuals, corporations and organizations that have distinguished themselves and inspired others in the fight against cancer.

This year's honorees, in 17 award categories, represent a wide range of community members, survivors, media representatives, organizations, and medical and scientific leaders who champion for cancer prevention and awareness, early detection, quality survivorship and research advancements so that more people can survive this disease.

“This event gives us the opportunity to recognize the extraordinary achievements of those dedicated to making life better for all cancer patients and their families,” said Katrina Studvent, chief development officer for the Karmanos Cancer Institute. “These unsung heroes often don't realize the incredible impact of what they do and how that makes a difference for someone battling this disease, as well as their family members, who also need support and hope.”

The institute honored its 2018 Heroes of Cancer awardees Nov. 7 at the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center in Detroit.

Jeffrey Zonder, M.D., of Berkley, Mich., hematologic oncologist at Karmanos Cancer Institute and professor of Oncology for the Wayne State University School of Medicine, received the Compassionate Caregiver Award. The award honors a health care professional whose treatment of cancer patients has been marked by exceptional technical skill, combined with sensitivity and compassion.

Dr. Zonder is a gifted scientist and a leader whose actions inspire and make a difference for those with malignant hematologic cancers, including multiple myeloma. An advocate for cancer research as well as an adventurer, Dr. Zonder has blended the two passions to help save lives. A few years ago, Dr. Zonder and his wife, Silva, climbed Machu Picchu, raising more than $10,000 for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. This year, they, along with Dr. Zonder's patient John Raithel, climbed to Mount Everest Base Camp following a year of training. Dr. and Mrs. Zonder raised another $25,900 for multiple myeloma research.

Dr. Zonder’s commitment to advancing cancer research and his special bond with his patients illustrate how he goes to great heights to help others survive this disease, while encouraging them to embrace living one step at a time.

“It means a lot to me to be recognized with the Compassionate Caregiver Award, as patient care for me has always been the most satisfying and impactful part of my career,” Dr. Zonder said. “I’m particularly honored that the recognition relates to Silva’s and my fundraising and awareness efforts on behalf of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. Finally, I was thrilled to see that two of my favorite people, John Raithel -- a patient, friend and fellow Everest Base Camp hiker -- and Lori Stauffer, R.N. -- an extraordinary nurse who has taken care of hundreds of myeloma and amyloidosis patients during her career at Karmanos -- are also among those being recognized at the 2018 Heroes of Cancer event.”

Larry Matherly, Ph.D., of Novi, Mich., associate center director of Basic Sciences for the Karmanos Cancer Institute and professor of Oncology at the Wayne State University School of Medicine, received the Dr. Michael J. Brennan Scientific Distinction Award for demonstrated leadership in basic or clinical cancer research.

Among his many titles, Dr. Matherly is the Eunice and Milton Ring Endowed Chair for Cancer Research; associate center director for Basic Sciences; director of the Cancer Biology Graduate Program; and a mentor and researcher. His distinguished leadership in the areas of basic sciences and training of the next generation of researchers within the Cancer Biology Graduate Program at the Wayne State University School of Medicine, sets him apart. Through his ongoing leadership in cancer research and teaching, Dr. Matherly continues to help Karmanos Cancer Institute maintain its National Cancer Institute designation as a Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. Matherly's leadership, his passion for scientific discovery and his numerous contributions to Karmanos’ core research initiatives make him deserving of the award, named for Dr. Michael J. Brennan, former president of the Michigan Cancer Foundation, now known as the Karmanos Cancer Institute.

“I am honored to receive this recognition,” Dr. Matherly said. “I am privileged to work with outstanding faculty and highly-motivated trainees at Karmanos. This award is as much a reflection on our faculty and students as on anything I have accomplished.”

This year’s Dr. Gloria Heppner Innovative Science Award, which honors an individual or organization that has proven success with innovative initiatives that help advance cancer research, was presented to Detroit Research on Cancer Survivors, or Detroit ROCS, at Karmanos. The principle investigators from Karmanos Cancer Institute and Wayne State University, are Ann Schwartz, Ph.D., M.P.H., vice president, Research and Academic Affairs; and Terrance Albrecht, Ph.D., associate center director, Population Science. Both are from Ann Arbor, Mich.

“This is a wonderful award and I sincerely thank the Karmanos Cancer Institute for this recognition,” Dr. Albrecht said. “Ann and I also thank Karmanos for providing the scientific and financial support needed to compete successfully for this grant from the National Cancer Institute. We are deeply grateful to the cancer patients and cancer survivors in metropolitan Detroit who have so generously provided their time and effort necessary for participating in this study.”

Detroit ROCS is a five-year study launched by Karmanos Cancer Institute and Wayne State University School of Medicine in 2017. Funded by a $9 million grant from the National Cancer Institute, it seeks to explore why African-Americans have poorer outcomes after a cancer diagnosis than other populations. The study focuses on breast, prostate, lung and colorectal cancers, the four most common cancers, each of which is marked by poorer survival rates in African-Americans.

The study will include information from 5,560 cancer survivors to better understand major factors affecting cancer progression, recurrence, mortality and quality of life in African-American cancer survivors. Drs. Schwartz and Albrecht’s team of researchers collect comprehensive data through interviews with participants, information from medical records and collect biospecimens from participants who live in Michigan’s Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. They also interview family members to understand how a cancer diagnosis affects the mental, physical and financial health of those providing care. To date, more than 1,500 surveys have been completed with another 3,700 pending. The information will help to develop training programs for residents, fellows and community oncologists, and help to better understand the disproportionately high incidence of cancer mortality to improve treatments, approaches to cancer care and cancer outcomes for African-Americans.

“This is a tremendous honor. Cancer disproportionately affects African-Americans and we don’t fully understand why these disparities exist,” Dr. Schwartz said. “The Detroit ROCS study represents a critically important opportunity to bring together the expertise of our population, basic and clinical scientists at the Karmanos Cancer Institute and the Wayne State School of Medicine, working alongside the community affected, to tackle these important issues. Thank you for recognizing this important work.”

This year’s winner of the Ribbon Champion Award is the chimeric antigen receptor T-cell, or CAR-T, Team at Karmanos Cancer Institute. Leaders of the CAR-T Team are, from Karmanos and Wayne State University, Abhinav Deol, M.D., medical oncologist, of Troy, Mich.; and Joseph Uberti, M.D., Ph.D., division chief, Hematology, and co-director, Bone Marrow Transplant, of Northville, Mich.

The award goes to an individual or group who demonstrates 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.

“I am honored to receive this award on behalf of our cellular therapy/stem cell transplant team in recognition of making CAR-T cell therapy available and accessible to our patients,” Dr. Deol said. “It is an exciting time to see immunotherapy and cellular therapies taking front stage in the treatment of cancer. The goal of the cellular therapy/stem cell therapy team is to have more novel therapies available for patients to treat malignancies at our institution.”

Drs. Deol and Uberti, with the entire CAR-T transplant team, worked on the clinical trials that led to Food and Drug Administration approval of CAR-T therapy for diffuse large B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma, or DLBCL. This clinical study, along with the outstanding expertise of this medical team, helped secure the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute as the first center in Michigan approved to treat adult patients with the commercially-approved chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy for DLBCL. CAR-T therapy is a type of immunotherapy made from a patient’s own white blood cells, which are genetically modified to recognize and attack the patient’s cancer cells. CAR-T cell therapy requires an experienced stem cell transplant team and Karmanos is one of the largest and best centers in the country for stem cell transplantation, with some of the best survival outcomes for related and unrelated stem cell transplantation.

“It is a great honor for me to accept this award. I do so on behalf of the entire Bone Marrow Transplantation Program at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute,” Dr. Uberti said. “This award is the accomplishment of the entire team, who through their expertise, dedication and teamwork are able to bring a new and innovative therapy to our center, providing benefit for many patients with cancer.”

150 years in the heart of Detroit
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