Jul 13, 2018
The first in her family to graduate from high school, Judith S. Kaur, MD, never imagined she would become a pioneer in cancer research, prevention and education. In fact, she began her career as a teacher—one of the few vocations women were encouraged to pursue in the early 1960s. After her husband challenged her to apply to medical school, she was accepted in 1975 to the Indian Health Service’s Indians into Medicine Program (INMED) program at the University of North Dakota, which encourages Native Americans like Dr. Kaur to pursue careers in medicine.
In her third year of medical school, Dr. Kaur realized she wanted to pursue a career in cancer research after witnessing the ravages of the disease in a 19-year-old man with aggressive testicular cancer. This experience sparked what has become a lasting commitment to finding better treatments for people with cancer.
Today, thanks in large part to federal funding, Dr. Kaur is breaking new ground in cancer treatment and prevention. As a medical oncologist and medical director of Native American Programs at the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center, Dr. Kaur runs the Spirit of Eagles program, which is transforming health outcomes and perceptions of cancer among Native American communities. Her efforts, which are funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), are increasing clinical trial participation, improving cancer prevention, and supporting students interested in pursuing careers in medicine.
Dr. Kaur was one of the first NCI-funded investigators to collect better data on cancer in Native American communities, which brought greater awareness of its impact on tribes in the Midwest and Western United States. With support from the federal government, Dr. Kaur is also working to develop a vaccine for triple-negative breast cancer, one of the most difficult types of breast cancer to treat.
She was the inaugural recipient of the ASCO’s Young Investigator Award for her work researching melanoma cell growth.
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