Cancer Advances


Advances in Oncology

Awards and Honors

Our physician-scientists continue to be honored for influencing the field of cancer research and clinical care. Following are a few of the distinguished awards and national recognition recently conferred on oncology faculty of Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and Weill Cornell Medicine.

Dr. Lewis C. Cantley Recognized for Seminal Contributions to Cancer Research

image of Dr. Lewis C. Cantley

Dr. Lewis C. Cantley

In January 2020, Lewis C. Cantley, PhD, Professor of Cancer Biology and Meyer Director of the Weill Cornell Medicine Meyer Cancer Center in Partnership with NewYork-Presbyterian, received Columbia University’s 2019 Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize. The award honors a scientific investigator, or group of investigators, whose contributions to knowledge in biology or biochemistry are deemed worthy of special recognition. Dr. Cantley was one of three scientists honored for their seminal contributions to the role of the enzyme PI-3-kinase (PI3K) and mechanistic target for rapamycin pathways in physiology and oncogenesis.

In March 2020, Dr. Cantley was named a recipient of the Medal of Honor – the American Cancer Society’s most prestigious award recognizing distinguished individuals who have made valuable contributions in the categories of basic research, cancer control, clinical research, and philanthropy. Dr. Cantley received the Medal of Honor for Basic Research, an award that pays tribute scientists who have made significant fundamental research contributions with lasting impact on the cancer field or important discoveries or inventions within the field. “We are privileged to honor these leaders in the cancer community for their significant lifetime achievements to save lives from cancer,” says Gary M. Reedy, CEO of the American Cancer Society. “We acknowledge these individuals with our highest honor for their extraordinary contributions and dedication to fighting cancer.”

Dr. Cantley’s research has revolutionized the understanding of cancer metabolism with his discovery and ongoing study of PI3K. The gene encoding PI3K, PIK3CA, is the most frequently mutated oncogene across all types of cancers and has been implicated in as many as 80 percent of cancers, including those of the breast, brain, and bladder. The PI3K pathway has also served as a target for new drugs, including the breakthrough lymphoma and leukemia drug idelalisib, which in 2014 became the first PI3K inhibitor to be approved by the FDA, and alpelisib, the first PI3K inhibitor approved for breast cancer (2019).

“Figuring out all the cellular events controlled by the PI3K-generated lipids is ongoing,” says Dr. Cantley. “More than 30 years later, there’s much more to be discovered. Along the way we had to resolve issues related to the enzyme’s dual roles in insulin signaling and cancer. We know a lot – the broad strokes, the major players – but there’s still a lot of subtleties to how this signaling network is regulated and what goes wrong in diseases such as diabetes and cancers.”

Dr. Cantley has twice served on Stand Up to Cancer’s Dream Teams – first as leader of the organization’s earliest Dream Teams targeting PI3K in women’s cancers and more recently as the head of the Weill Cornell Medicine cohort for the Colorectal Cancer Dream Team. In addition to the Horwitz Prize and Medal of Honor, Dr. Cantley’s body of work with PI3K and other avenues of cancer research has earned Dr. Cantley a succession of international awards, including the Breakthrough in Life Sciences Award, the Association of American Cancer Institutes Distinguished Scientist Award, and OncLive’s Giants of Cancer Care.

Association of American Physicians Honors Dr. Charles Drake and Dr. Adolfo Ferrando

image of Dr. Charles G. Drake

Dr. Charles G. Drake

The Association of American Physicians (AAP), an honorific society of the nation’s leading physician-scientists, has inducted Charles G. Drake, MD, PhD, and Adolfo Ferrando, MD, PhD, members of the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at NewYork-Presbyterian/ Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Each year, the AAP nominates individuals that are on the cutting edge of medical practice and research. Only 72 members were added to the AAP ranks in 2020.

Dr. Drake, a genitourinary oncologist and researcher, is pioneering the advancement of cancer immunotherapy and is known for rapidly incorporating discoveries made in the research lab into innovative clinical trials, including anti-tumor vaccines. The Drake Lab was the first to show that Lymphocyte-Activation Gene 3 (LAG-3) is a cell surface marker for CD4 cells with regulatory function (Treg) and that blockade of LAG-3 with a monoclonal antibody could restore anti-tumor immune responses by mitigating CD8 T-cell tolerance in vivo. Dr. Drake co-directs the Cancer Immunotherapy Program and co-leads the Tumor Biology and Microenvironment program at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center.

image of Dr. Dr. Adolfo Ferrando

Dr. Adolfo Ferrando

Dr. Ferrando is a Professor in the Departments of Pediatrics and Pathology and Cell Biology in the Institute for Cancer Genetics and is the Associate Director for Shared Resources at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. Ferrando’s research explores the molecular mechanisms underlying the growth of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, particularly leukemias that develop resistance to chemotherapy drugs. The Ferrando Lab identified the gene NT5C2 which, when mutated, drives resistance to a common chemotherapy treatment, 6-mercaptopurine. By understanding the mechanisms of resistance, the Ferrando Lab works to design new strategies to curtail the occurrence of relapse.

Dr. Dawn L. Hershman Honored for Leadership in Cancer Care

image of Dr. Dawn L. Hershman

Dr. Dawn L. Hershman

This spring, the American Cancer Society (ACS) and Holigic, Inc., recognized Dawn L. Hershman, MD, MS, with prestigious awards for her outstanding work in cancer research, care, and training.

Dr. Hershman, a renowned physician-scientist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center and leader of the Cancer Population Sciences Program at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center, is an expert in breast cancer treatment, prevention, and survivorship. The ACS has honored her with a Research Professorship for her leading work in improving cancer care delivery and cancer health outcomes, particularly in breast cancer.  

A lifelong designation, the professorship honors exceptional physician-scientists and clinicians for their seminal contributions to cancer. With the ACS professorship, Dr. Hershman is being cited for her impactful research that identifies challenges in the clinic, explores them in a deeper way, such as her investigations into understanding barriers to cancer care delivery, and aims to develop interventions to improve the quality of care provided to patients. The ACS grant will provide funding for Dr. Hershman’s ongoing research program, and also will help support research being led by the many junior investigators with whom she collaborates and mentors. 

“Traditionally, cancer control health outcomes research and cancer care delivery research weren’t always recognized scientifically to the same degree as basic science discovery,” says Dr. Hershman. “To see that the ACS is recognizing me for the type of work I and others do is also very meaningful in terms of validating the research and its impact in the cancer care community.”

Dr. Hershman was also honored with the 2020 Hologic, Inc. Endowed Women Who Conquer Cancer Mentorship Award. The award, presented to her during the virtual 2020 American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting in May, recognizes a female leader in oncology who is a role model and serves as a mentor to women in training to be cancer clinicians, educators, or researchers.

Women Who Conquer Cancer supports and celebrates those who are doing their part to help advance the careers of the next generation of female leaders in the field. Through mentorship and professional development of women oncology professionals, Women Who Conquer Cancer aims to narrow career gender disparities.

Dr. Hershman has consistently supported programs and initiatives that give women scientists and doctors the credit and support they deserve. Throughout her career, she has mentored numerous faculty members who have been granted mentored career development awards.

“To be recognized by an organization I value so highly for an activity that is so personally meaningful to me, but is often unrecognized, has left me speechless,” says Dr. Hershman. “Others have said that success is not about how much money you make; it is about the difference you make in peoples’ lives. I have had the honor of helping my mentees see their potential so that they can make a bigger difference in the lives of people with cancer and they can go on and mentor others. The impact is exponential.”

Dr. Anne Moore Named Fellow of the American Society of Clinical Oncology

image of Dr. Anne Moore

Dr. Anne Moore

Anne Moore, MD, Medical Director of the Breast Center at Weill Cornell Medicine, has been named a Fellow of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, a prestigious designation that recognizes members for their extraordinary volunteer service and dedication to ASCO, the field of oncology, and patients living with and at risk for cancer.

Throughout her career, Dr. Moore has been a tireless advocate for patients – in her clinical practice and through her participation in local and national breast cancer initiatives. Early in her career, Dr. Moore led the establishment of a weekly Breast Cancer Tumor Board to ensure that patients with breast cancer benefitted from the expertise and perspectives of multiple specialists in the field. When it became clear that most patients with breast cancer could be cured, Dr. Moore led the establishment of a dedicated research program to study and address issues related to survivorship, including initiatives to help understand and ultimately prevent the side effects of chemotherapy and other treatments and to support patients throughout their lifetime after a breast cancer diagnosis.

“It is exciting to be in the forefront of breast cancer research not only with our own group at the Breast Center but also as part of the exciting research going on across the nation,” says Dr. Moore. “Every year brings advances in this field. I am very happy to be part of it!”

Dr. Moore has served as a Director of  the American Board of Internal Medicine and is an active member of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, where she was editor of ASCO-SEP II. She is a trustee of the New York Community Trust as well as a former trustee of The New York Academy of Medicine and Past President of The New York Metropolitan Breast Cancer Group. She has been recognized by SHARE (Self-Help for Women with Breast Cancer), by JALBCA (Judges and Lawyers Breast Cancer Alliance), and by the Susan G. Komen Foundation for her work in breast cancer.

Dr. Lisa A. Newman Honored by 2020 AACR-Minorities in Cancer Research

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Dr. Lisa A. Newman

The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) has recognized Lisa A. Newman, MD, MPH, with the 2020 AACR-Minorities in Cancer Research Jane Cooke Wright Lectureship. Dr. Newman is Chief of the Section of Breast Surgery at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, and leader of the multidisciplinary breast oncology programs at the NewYork-Presbyterian David H. Koch Center. She is also the Founder and Medical Director for the International Center for the Study of Breast Cancer Subtypes, now headquartered at Weill Cornell Medicine.

The AACR-Minorities in Cancer Research Jane Cooke Wright Lectureship recognizes an outstanding scientist who has made meritorious contributions to the field of cancer research and who has, through leadership or by example, furthered the advancement of minority investigators in cancer research. Dr. Newman receives this award in recognition of her significant contributions to the identification of biomarkers for triple-negative breast cancer in African-American and African women and her dedication to mentoring students and trainees from groups traditionally underrepresented in medicine and research.

“During my early years as a general surgeon in the 1990s, we did not have quite as clear an understanding of the heterogeneity of breast cancer subtypes that we have now,” says Dr. Newman. “We therefore had not yet documented some of the facts that are now well-established with national data that African-American women are indeed more likely to develop cancers that are biologically more aggressive and at younger ages. I wanted to be involved with research that would explain these variations, and this motivated my pursuit of additional training in surgical oncology, as well as in epidemiology.”

Today, Dr. Newman is a world-renowned expert in breast surgical oncology whose exceptional body of research has significantly advanced the understanding of breast cancer risk and clinical outcomes in African and African-American women. To investigate the heterogeneity of breast cancer subtypes and to better understand the complex role of race and ethnicity in breast cancer risk, Dr. Newman formed an international collaboration with physicians and researchers in Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Canada, and the Caribbean.

Dr. Newman has been a respected mentor to hundreds of students and trainees in different phases of their academic careers in the United States as well as in Ghana and Ethiopia. She served as the program director for the University of Michigan Breast Fellowship Training Program for more than a decade. Prior to being recruited to serve as Chief of Breast Surgery and head of the breast program for the WCM-NYP network in August 2018, she was Director of the multidisciplinary breast program for the Henry Ford Health System for two years.

Dr. Newman is currently Second Vice President-Elect for the American College of Surgeons and she serves on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Dr. Newman’s many awards include Crain’s New York Most Notable Women in Healthcare, European Society of Medical Oncology Rock Stars of Medicine and Science, Top Blacks in Healthcare, Phenomenal African-American Women and past recipient of the Michiganian of the Year Award.

Dr. Anil K. Rustgi Named President of American Pancreatic Association

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Dr. Anil K. Rustgi

Anil K. Rustgi, MD, Director of the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, was named the President of the American Pancreas Association (APA), an organization dedicated to all aspects of pancreatology, spanning research, clinical care, education/training and advocacy. The APA membership – scientists, physicians and allied health professionals, trainees at all levels, industry representatives and lay public – reflects its diverse activities.

“Building upon the work of past luminary Presidents and working collaboratively with our current APA board, membership and staff, we are poised to take bold steps in this decade,” says Dr. Rustgi, a world-renowned leader in the field of gastrointestinal oncology. “We can translate foundational or basic discovery science into innovative clinical trials and comprehensive clinical care and we can enable and support the training and education of the new generation of leaders dedicated to pancreatology. We will prioritize advocacy in government and in society for patients suffering from pancreatic diseases and disorders, and we will also expand our membership – domestic and international – and include the public. All of our efforts, regardless of our backgrounds and perspectives, converge on the moral imperative of taking care of our patients, whether directly or indirectly.”

Before joining NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia in 2019, Dr. Rustgi served as the T. Grier Miller Professor of Medicine and Genetics and Chief of Gastroenterology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, where he co-led the Tumor Biology Program. He was also Director of the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases Center for Molecular Studies in Digestive and Liver Diseases and Director of the Joint Penn-Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Center for Digestive, Liver, and Pancreatic Medicine.

Dr. Rustgi has been elected to the American Society of Clinical Investigation and the Association of American Physicians and is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Previously, he was president of the American Gastroenterological Association (17,000 members), editor-in-chief of Gastroenterology, and president of the International Society of Gastroenterological Carcinogenesis. Dr. Rustgi has been recognized for his contributions with numerous awards, including the AGA Julius Friedenwald Lifetime Achievement in Gastroenterology Medal, AGA Distinguished Mentor Award, and the Ruth C. Brufsky Award for Excellence in Research in Pancreatic Cancer.

On July 1, 2020, Dr. Rustgi assumed the role of Interim Executive Vice President and Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine at Columbia University.

Dr. Rache Simmons Selected One of Crain’s Notable Women in Talent Resources

image of Dr. Rache M. Simmons

Dr. Rache M. Simmons

Rache M. Simmons, MD, Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion at Weill Cornell Medicine, has been named one of Crain’s Notable Women in Talent Resources in the Greater New York City area. For its inaugural list, Crain’s New York Business selected 62 honorees – women executives working in human resources, talent retention and acquisition, and diversity and inclusion – to celebrate them for their varied achievements.

“I’m very flattered and honored to have been selected for this inaugural list,” says Dr. Simmons, who is also the Anne K. and Edwin C. Weiskopf Professor of Surgical Oncology and a Professor of Surgery at Weill Cornell Medicine, and a breast surgeon at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Dr. Simmons has advanced diversity efforts at Weill Cornell Medicine since 2009 and currently serves as the inaugural director of the Office of Women at Weill Cornell Medicine and Co-chair of Women Physicians of NewYork-Presbyterian. Among her achievements, she helped to develop a paid parental leave policy and establish childcare facilities that are open to Weill Cornell Medicine’s students, faculty and staff. Most recently, she developed a report for the institution’s leadership that analyzed four women’s initiative areas at Weill Cornell: promotions, job satisfaction, leadership, and salary and compensation equity.

“Academic medicine has historically struggled with ensuring gender equity, and we are working urgently to address this,” says Dr. Simmons. “So, by gaining a baseline at Weill Cornell Medicine, we’ll know where to direct our efforts.”

In addition to leadership and clinical responsibilities, Dr. Simmons is expected to complete in May a joint Master’s in Business Administration from Cornell’s Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management and a Master’s in Healthcare Leadership from the Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences. The knowledge she has gained from these programs about the business of healthcare will provide her with important new perspectives that can inform her work, says Dr. Simmons. “I want to do whatever I can to make sure women physicians reach their full potential. I hope this honor helps put a spotlight on women’s equity in academic medicine.”