Jan 20, 2011
(Above) ASCO’s only female founder, Jane C. Wright, MD, with Immediate Past ASCO President Douglas W. Blayney, MD at the 2010 ASCO Annual Meeting. Early in her career, Dr. Wright performed patient trials for human leukemias and cancers of the lymphatic system.
Beginning at the 2011 ASCO Annual Meeting, the annual Young Investigator Award (YIA), sponsored by members of the ASCO and Conquer Cancer Foundation Boards of Directors, will be named in honor of Jane C. Wright, MD. Dr. Wright is one of seven founding members of ASCO (the only woman among the founders) and the Society’s first Secretary/Treasurer, as well as a chemotherapy pioneer and renowned researcher. The Jane C. Wright, MD, Young Investigator Award Supported by ASCO and Conquer Cancer Foundation Boards of Directors will recognize Dr. Wright’s leadership at ASCO, her contributions to the field of oncology, and her dedication and passion for finding a cure for cancer.
Born in New York City, Jane Cooke Wright was the first of two daughters born to Corrine (Cooke) and Dr. Louis Tompkins Wright. Her father was one of the first African American graduates of Harvard Medical School and the first African American doctor appointed to a staff position at a municipal hospital in New York City.
Dr. Jane Wright graduated with honors from New York Medical College, interned at Bellevue Hospital, and completed her residency at Harlem Hospital. She was hired as a staff physician with the New York City Public Schools and continued as a visiting physician at Harlem Hospital. She later left the school position to work with her father, who was Director of the Cancer Research Foundation at Harlem Hospital.
At that time, chemotherapy was still mostly experimental. At Harlem Hospital, her father had already redirected the focus of the research to investigating anticancer chemicals. While he worked in the laboratory, Dr. Jane Wright performed patient trials. In 1949, the two began testing a new chemical on human leukemias and cancers of the lymphatic system. Several patients who participated in the trials had some remission. Following Dr. Louis Wright’s death in 1952, Dr. Jane Wright was appointed head of the Cancer Research Foundation at the age of 33.
In 1955, Dr. Wright became an associate professor of surgical research at New York University and director of cancer chemotherapy research at New York University Medical Center and its affiliated Bellevue and University Hospitals.
The Beginning for a Specialty and for a Society
In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Dr. Wright to the President’s Commission on Heart Disease, Cancer, and Stroke. Based on the Commission’s report, a national network of treatment centers was established for these diseases. And in Chicago, seven oncologists, including Dr. Wright, assembled for lunch in the Edgewater Beach Hotel. This diverse group of physicians shared an interest in the fledging fi eld of cancer chemotherapy with greater patient-related orientation and imagined an organization that would operate with the goal of assisting and educating cancer care providers. It was the very first meeting of ASCO.
During her career, Dr. Wright analyzed a wide range of anticancer agents, explored the relationship between patient and tissue culture response, and developed new techniques for administering cancer chemotherapy. In 1967, she was named professor of surgery, head of the Cancer Chemotherapy Department, and associate dean at New York Medical College, her alma mater. At a time when African American women physicians numbered only a few hundred in the entire United States, Dr. Wright was the highest-ranking African American woman at a nationally recognized medical institution.
While pursuing private research at the New York Medical College, she implemented a new comprehensive program to study stroke, heart disease, and cancer, and created another program to instruct doctors in chemotherapy. In 1971, Dr. Jane Wright became the first woman president of the New York Cancer Society. After a long and fruitful career of cancer research, She retired in 1987. During her 40-year career, Dr. Wright published numerous papers on cancer chemotherapy and led delegations of cancer researchers to Africa, China, Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union.
Article originally printed in the 2011 Gastrointestinal Cancer Symposium Daily News