Mar 09, 2023
By Jimmy O’Hara, Conquer Cancer
Conquer Cancer, the ASCO Foundation, funds researchers at every stage of their career, everywhere in the world.
Since 1984, ASCO and Conquer Cancer have provided more than 2,600 grants and awards to researchers domestically and internationally, with 80 countries represented by recipients. Meet just a few of the many investigators around the globe whose work is accelerating research for patients. ASCO and Conquer Cancer gratefully acknowledge all donors to our Grants and Awards program.
Alexandru Eniu, MD, PhD
Ion Chiricuta Oncology Institute Cluj-Napoca, Romania*
A 2015 IIG to Ion Chiricuta Oncology Institute Cluj-Napoca (IOCN) helped build the foundation for Dr. Eniu and his team to accelerate research for patients with breast cancer. They launched a telemedicine platform for breast tumor boards to evaluate patient data and improve treatment recommendations for patients in rural parts of Romania, where travel can be difficult. The tool enables patients in remote regions to avoid unnecessary travel, access expert evaluations, and receive timely care. Dr. Eniu is expanding the tool to benefit patients with other cancer types, including gastrointestinal, prostate, and rare cancers.
Liliana Vásquez, MD, MSc
Medical Association of Clinical Oncology of Peru*
Supported by a 2017 IIG, Medical Association of Clinical Oncology of Peru—led by Dr. Vásquez—designed and launched a digital tool for patients with pediatric cancer and their providers. They developed ONCOpeds, a mobile application to improve the referral process for young patients in Peru, where late detection of cancer is common and nearly half of children with cancer present with advanced-stage disease. The tool connects patients and families with health providers to help reduce the time to diagnosis of pediatric cancer. Doctors use the app to remotely assess the health status of patients and request consultations with oncology specialists. To date, ONCOpeds has reached eight regions of Peru with more than 1,500 downloads and over 450 patient cases reviewed. It is currently being integrated into Peru’s national telemedicine system and is gaining traction in neighboring countries.
Raya Saab, MD
American University of Beirut Medical Center, Lebanon*
A 2017 IIG awarded to the American University of Beirut Medical Center helped Dr. Saab to advance research for patients with pediatric cancer. She facilitated workshops to strengthen referral networks between primary care physicians and oncology specialists in Lebanon, where children with cancer face life-threatening delays in diagnosis and treatment. This project helped to improve pediatricians’ knowledge of cancer-related signs and symptoms and has shown promise for connecting young patients to timely cancer care. Follow-up work includes mapping geographic patterns in referral, advocating for more frequent diagnostic checkups, and launching public awareness forums on pediatric cancer.
Yanin Chávarri-Guerra, MD, MSc
Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Médicas y Nutrición Salvador Zubirán, Mexico
Dr. Chávarri-Guerra built a foundation for improving research for patients with breast cancer in part through a 2010 International Development and Education Award (IDEA) and two IIGs (2015 and 2021). In Mexico, late detection of breast cancer is common due to delays in diagnostic appointments and limited access to health information. With IIG funding, Dr. Chávarri-Guerra led a prospective research study on a culturally competent, age-appropriate, youth education program to promote breast cancer awareness through intergenerational learning. This markedly increased students’ understanding of breast cancer signs and symptoms and facilitated the sharing of that knowledge to older relatives. This initial work propelled Dr. Chávarri-Guerra’s current project to implement a digital patient navigation curriculum for health care workers.
Aba Scott, MBChB
Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, Ghana
Using a 2021 Global Oncology YIA (GO YIA) supported by Bristol Myers Squibb, Dr. Scott works to improve care for patients with gynecologic cancers in Ghana, where treatment access and health care capacity are limited. She is training care teams to pair modern radiotherapy techniques with CT scans to more effectively manage cervical cancer and other gynecologic malignancies. These advanced radiotherapy approaches are helping doctors to target cancer in lymph nodes, while being more tolerable with better outcomes compared to older methods. Dr. Scott’s project is reaching patients in other sub-Saharan African countries as trained providers translate skills gained in the program to their home country practices.
Sarita Ghimire, MD, MPH
Nepal Cancer Care Foundation
A 2016 IIG awarded to the Nepal Cancer Care Foundation laid the groundwork for Dr. Ghimire and her team to advance research for patients with cervical cancer, which is the most common type of cancer in Nepal for patients with female sex characteristics. They used the IIG support to implement and measure the effectiveness of mobile health tools designed to help doctors improve earlier detection and ensure patients can complete their full course of care. The project contributed to heightened efficacy of screening for cervical cancer and treatment programs for patients in remote regions. This practice-changing work has since been integrated into nationally recognized screening guidelines and referral policies that are helping providers to improve the care experience for patients.
David Margel, MD, PhD, MBA
Rabin Medical Center & Tel-Aviv University & Raphael Hospital, Israel
Through a 2015 Career Development Award (CDA) supported by Genentech BioOncologyTM, Dr. Margel was able to connect with the resources he needed to accelerate research for patients with prostate cancer. He led a prospective study on screening for patients with BRCA gene mutations, which can make cells multiply rapidly. People with male sex characteristics who carry mutations in their BRCA genes face heightened risks of developing an aggressive form of prostate cancer earlier in life. Dr. Margel found that standard screenings may not be adequate for early detection of disease in this vulnerable group. He then launched a clinic to help personalize care for these patients and is working to include them in clinical trials.
Molly Taylor, MD, MS
Seattle Children’s Hospital, United States
Dr. Taylor works to advance research in supportive care for young patients with cancer. She focuses on pediatric biobehavioral oncology, working to assess how mental, behavioral, and environmental factors interact with the immune system to affect outcomes in adolescent and young adult (AYA) patients with cancer. Using support from a 2020 Women Who Conquer Cancer Young Investigator Award (YIA), Dr. Taylor evaluated stress biomarkers from two clinical trials to assess the efficacy of a resilience-building program for AYA patients with cancer. Her research on stress and mind-body resilience can help doctors to provide personalized supportive care for their patients. This can include connecting patients to psychosocial and behavioral resources they may need, or to medications for alleviating symptoms and side effects.
William Matsui, MD
The University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School, United States
A 2001 YIA supported by Roche and a 2004 CDA supported by Genentech BioOncologyTM helped plant the seed for Dr. Matsui to accelerate research for patients with multiple myeloma, many of whom initially experience a favorable response to treatment before facing relapse. He sought to uncover how stem cells prevent patients from experiencing durable outcomes and his YIA project was focused on the feasibility of differentiation therapy for targeting stem cells. This initial work provided the rationale for more research on reducing cancer recurrence and improving treatment response. Subsequently supported by a CDA, Dr. Matsui found three properties of stem cells that enable relapse. Today, he’s applying this research to develop and test new therapies, including immunotherapies for patients with multiple myeloma and other types of cancer.
Jacqueline Garcia, MD
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, United States
Dr. Garcia laid the groundwork to advance research for patients with relapsed acute myeloid leukemia (AML) through a 2014 YIA supported by Aaron and Barbro Sasson, and a 2017 CDA. Patients with AML, especially those facing recurrence, have few options for treatment and most AML drugs are difficult to tolerate. Dr. Garcia worked to improve epigenetic therapies and make treatment more tolerable for patients. She also explored how to optimize treatment around the time patients undergo bone marrow transplants—the only known curative approach when chemotherapy fails. Supported by a YIA, she identified a promising drug for targeting AML caused by certain genetic mutations. Building on this with her CDA project, Dr. Garcia launched a multisite phase I trial pairing an epigenetic treatment with a drug that activates the immune system. The trial helped Dr. Garcia find an effective dose of this combination and resulted in several patients experiencing complete or extended remissions. She is now pairing new epigenetic approaches with other novel treatments to help reach more patients.
Anna Spreafico, MD, PhD
Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Canada
Using a 2014 YIA supported by Millennium Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Dr. Spreafico worked to improve outcomes for patients with pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors, a rare type of cancer. At the time of her YIA project, the molecular causes of disease progression in this tumor type were undefined. Dr. Spreafico worked to define the characteristics of an aggressive subtype of pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor and mapped out the mechanisms causing it to multiply. This initial work paved the way for subsequent studies that can help doctors assess the risks facing individual patients, build more personalized care plans, and work toward promising treatments. Dr. Spreafico’s project also equipped her with the skills to mentor the next generation of early-career researchers, including four YIA recipients and one CDA awardee.
Marc Oliva, MD
Institut Català d’ Oncologia, Spain
Through a 2019 YIA supported by Merck & Co., Inc., Dr. Oliva used 16S RNA sequencing and metagenomics to assess how the human microbiome can help patients with head and neck cancers build immunity to tumors and experience better responses to treatment. Dr. Oliva found that patients with human papillomavirus (HPV)-related oropharyngeal cancer have a differing composition of oral and gut microbiomes, which change after radiation treatment and might reflect increased risk of recurrence. This vital research, titled ROMA, is bringing subsequent clinical trials to life. In a follow-up study (ROMA-2), Dr. Oliva found that a promising drug was safe and well-tolerated and is testing whether it can favorably modify patient microbiomes. In another project (ROMA-ES), he’s analyzing differences between HPV-related and unrelated oropharyngeal cancers, along with the differing characteristics between patients from Canada and Spain.
Sherene Loi, MD, PhD
Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Australia
Using a 2005 YIA supported by The Don Shula Foundation, Dr. Loi launched vital research to advance care for patients with breast cancer. She profiled the expression of various genes—an emerging technique at the time—to better understand the biology of breast tumors, uncover the causes of tumor resistance to treatment, and predict patient prognosis more effectively. This vital project contributed to a practice-changing body of results that continue to guide doctors in personalizing chemotherapy for patients with early-stage disease. Dr. Loi remains involved in translational breast cancer research and integrates the takeaways from her YIA work into her patient care.
Tonia Onyeka, MBBS
College of Medicine, University of Nigeria Ituku-Ozalla Campus
A 2017 IIG helped Dr. Onyeka and her team to originate and launch a digital tool for patients in need of palliative care. They designed Enhancing Palliative Care (EPAC), a mobile application that helps bring timely care to patients in South-East Nigeria. Here, many patients miss appointments due to financial and transportation barriers and lack of caregiving resources. The EPAC app allows patients in rural regions to self-report symptoms and remotely connect with providers, who use the app to offer personalized medical advice and assess which patients need prompt medical care. The team is working to release the tool for widespread use in their clinic.
Luiz Araujo, MD, PhD
Brazilian National Cancer Institute and Dasa Oncologia
Through a 2010 IDEA and a 2012 Long-term International Fellowship (LIFe) grant supported by Amgen, Dr. Araujo was able to advance research for patients with lung cancer. The IDEA program paired Dr. Araujo with an ASCO mentor and connected him with a global network of leaders in lung cancer care. With LIFe funding, he used molecular profiling to better understand how ethnicity and genetics shape the biology of cancer in Brazil, where lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death. His vital research is helping doctors recommend the best clinical trials and treatments for patients.
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*The International Innovation Grant (IIG) is granted to the recipient’s institution and the recipient serves as principal investigator; an asterisk indicates that the researcher conducted their IIG project at the institution listed, but is no longer affiliated with that institution. All other institutions listed reflect the researcher’s current affiliation, which may not be where their funded work was conducted.