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Then & Now -Researchers Remember Dr. Jane C. Wright

Dr. Jane C. Wright in a lab coat using a microscope to conduct clinical research

Conquer Cancer, the ASCO Foundation awards a grant celebrating Jane C. Wright, MD, FASCO annually at ASCO Annual Meeting. During Black History Month, we reflect on how Dr. Wright’s legacy lives on through the next generation of researchers.

It’s lunchtime in Chicago, 1964.

Seven forward-thinking oncologists gather to brainstorm what will become the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).  Among the group is Dr. Jane C. Wright, the only woman and African American among ASCO’s founders.

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Dr. Judith Michels receiving an endowed Dr. Jane C. Wright YIA at Annual Meeting
Dr. Judith Michels with her endowed Dr. Jane C. Wright YIA at the 2019 ASCO Annual Meeting

It’s ASCO Annual Meeting time in Chicago, 2011.  

Thousands of the world’s best scientists gather to share the latest discoveries in cancer care. Among the crowd is the inaugural recipient of the Jane C. Wright, MD, Young Investigator Award (YIA).

ASCO, with nearly 45,000 members, presents the award through Conquer Cancer to honor Dr. Wright, who died in 2013. The grant, an endowed award since 2016, is given annually to an early-career researcher who embodies Dr. Wright’s pioneering spirit.

Judith Michels, MD, PhD, received the honor in 2019.

“I am focusing on how to render the tumor more visible to the immune system,” says Dr. Michels, who is planning a clinical trial to address an unmet need in cancer research: developing targeted immune system therapies to improve patient responses.

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Dr. Brian Miller receiving an endowed Dr. Jane C. Wright YIA at Annual Meeting
Dr. Brian Miller with his endowed Dr. Jane C. Wright YIA at the 2018 ASCO Annual Meeting

The award helps Dr. Michels connect with distinguished experts and develop international collaborations. Dr. Michels also designed a fellowship program to train and empower future generations of oncologists.

Brian C. Miller, MD, PhD, who received a Jane C. Wright YIA in 2018, used it to grow his research team. The group identified a subtype of immune cells that are important in improving patient response to certain immunotherapies.

“We would not have been able to complete [the study] in a timely fashion without this award,” explains Dr. Miller.

To improve care for patients, Dr. Wright championed scientific collaboration and helped build a more unified network of oncology leaders. Highlights of her groundbreaking career include the early use of chemotherapy, the launch of a database that doctors use to reference patient information and tissue culture responses to drugs, and placement on President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Commission on Heart Disease, Cancer, and Stroke.

“It is a privilege to feel close to the footsteps of such a famous scientist,” reflects Dr. Michels. “She was a legend.”

In May, global oncology leaders will return to Chicago for the 2020 ASCO Annual Meeting.

The brightest minds in cancer research will gather to share the latest research breakthroughs. Among them, the next Jane C. Wright YIA recipient, who will carry Dr. Wright’s remarkable legacy in the work they do to conquer cancer.

 

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ASCO co-founder Dr. Jane C. Wright at 2011 ASCO Annual Meeting
Dr. Jane C. Wright smiling among colleagues and friends at the 2011 ASCO Annual Meeting, where the first Dr. Wright YIA was awarded in her honor