Fergus J. Couch, PhD, and Max S. Wicha, MD, Recognized for Significant Contributions to Breast Cancer Research at 2016 SABCS


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Fergus J. Couch, PhD

Fergus J. Couch, PhD

Max S. Wicha, MD

Max S. Wicha, MD

The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) honored two renowned researchers for their work in breast cancer at the 2016 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS), held December 6–10 in San Antonio, Texas. Fergus J. Couch, PhD, of the Mayo Clinic, will receive the 9th Annual AACR Outstanding Investigator Award for Breast Cancer Research (funded by Susan G. Komen), and Max S. Wicha, MD, of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, will receive the 9th Annual AACR Distinguished Lectureship in Breast Cancer Research.

Dr. Couch

The AACR Outstanding Investigator Award for Breast Cancer Research recognizes an investigator of no more than 50 years of age whose novel and significant work has had or may have a far-reaching impact on the etiology, detection, diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of breast cancer. Such work may involve any discipline across the continuum of biomedical research, including basic, translational, clinical, and epidemiologic studies.

Dr. Couch, who is the Zbigniew and Anna M. Scheller Professor of Medical Research and Chair of the Division of Experimental Pathology and Laboratory Medicine in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at the Mayo Clinic, is being honored for his seminal work in identifying the inherited genes and mutations that predispose to breast cancer. Much of his research has focused on determining the clinical relevance of inherited variants of uncertain significance in breast cancer predisposition genes, using genetic epidemiology and molecular biology approaches.

A distinguished national leader in cancer genetics, Dr. Couch is a Founder and member of the Evidence-Based Network for the Interpretation of Germline Mutant Alleles consortium and a leader in the BRCA Challenge and the Prospective Registry of Multiplex Testing initiatives aimed at understanding alterations in cancer-predisposition genes. He is also a Co-Founder of the Consortium of Investigators of Modifiers of BRCA1/2, a Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Consortium, and a long-term member of the Breast Cancer Association Consortium. Working with members of these consortia, Dr. Couch has led genome-wide association studies to identify common genetic variants that influence the risk of estrogen receptor–negative and triple-negative breast cancers and modify risks of breast cancer among carriers of germline BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations.

In more recent research, Dr. Couch has been working to estimate the risks of breast cancer associated with pathogenic variants identified by clinical genetic testing using multigene panels and is leading an effort to identify genetic factors that account for the missing heritability of breast cancer.

Dr. Wicha

The AACR Distinguished Lectureship in Breast Cancer Research was established to recognize outstanding science that has inspired or has the potential to inspire new perspectives on the etiology, diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of breast cancer.

Dr. Wicha, Director Emeritus of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, is being recognized for his leadership in breast cancer research and as a pioneer in the field of cancer stem cells. Dr. Wicha is among the most highly cited investigators in the field. His group was part of the team that first identified cancer stem cells in human breast cancers, the first in any solid tumor. His laboratory has developed many of the techniques and assays used to study these cells and to elucidate the pathways that regulate their behavior. These pathways have provided targets for the development of drugs aimed at these cancer stem cells.

Dr. Wicha is Co-Founder of ­OncoMed Pharmaceuticals, a company focused on developing cancer stem cell therapeutics, which has produced five agents currently in clinical testing. After training in clinical oncology and cancer biology at the National Cancer Institute, he joined the faculty of the University of Michigan in 1980, where he served as Chief of the Division of Hematology/Oncology in the Department of Internal Medicine. 

Dr. Wicha served as Director of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center since its inception in 1986 until 2015, when he became Director Emeritus. He remains an active clinician, specializing in the treatment of patients with breast cancer. ■


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