Distinguished physician, scientist, mentor, and leader Waun Ki Hong, MD, recently accepted the American Cancer Society 2012 Medal of Honor Award in recognition of his novel, high-impact clinical research that has extended the frontiers of cancer treatment and prevention. Dr. Hong is Vice Provost for Clinical Research and Head of the Division of Cancer Medicine at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston.
“I’ve been very lucky. I’ve been at the right place, working with the right people, with great support from my colleagues and this institution,” Dr. Hong said. “I enjoy a challenge, and innovative clinical research requires perseverance, articulating an agenda and assembling the right team,” he added.
“And you must look at things from the positive side. There are pros and cons in any worthwhile project, but if you talk too much about the downside, you can’t break through barriers to prolong and improve the quality of our patients’ lives,” he said.
Dr. Hong has mentored hundreds of oncologists and clinician-scientists and authored more than 685 scientific publications. In three major areas—organ conservation, chemoprevention, and targeted therapy—he conceived, designed, and completed clinical trials that enlarged the scope of lifesaving possibilities.
As Chief of Medical Oncology at the Boston Veterans Administration Medical Center in the early 1980s, Dr. Hong conceived and led a series of landmark clinical trials showing that patients with laryngeal cancer fared just as well when treated with chemotherapy and radiation as those who underwent surgery that ultimately resulted in removing the larynx and losing the ability to speak.
Recounting subsequent research at MD Anderson, Dr. Hong said, “We proved the principle of chemoprevention, that the course of cancer development can be reversed, and second primary cancers could be prevented.”
Reflecting on personalized medicine, he added, “As we increasingly understand cancer-promoting molecular targets and identify people who are at high risk for it, we can use targeted therapy to prevent cancer by blocking those pathways.” ■