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ASH Announces 2022 Honorific Award Recipients

(WASHINGTON, June 29, 2022) — The American Society of Hematology (ASH) will recognize exemplary hematologists who have made significant contributions to the field with Honorific Awards at the 2022 ASH Annual Meeting in December. This year’s recipients are a group of pioneering scientists, innovative clinicians, and selfless mentors who have advanced hematology through vital contributions, from revolutionary achievements in stem cell transplantation and the discovery of novel blood cancer biomarkers, to dedicated mentorship of underrepresented minority trainees to bolster a strong and diverse hematology workforce.

“We applaud this year’s Honorific Award recipients, all of whom have made tremendous contributions to our field. They have dedicated their careers to advancing patient care, research, and education, all of which directly improve the lives of people with blood disorders,” said ASH President Jane N. Winter, MD, of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “ASH values opportunities to recognize leaders and role models with diverse perspectives, talents, and experiences, who are dedicated to furthering the future of hematology.”

The 2022 Honorific Awards recipients are:

Irving Weissman, MD, Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine:
Wallace H. Coulter Award for Lifetime Achievement in Hematology

Dr. Weissman has made monumental contributions to hematology over the past 56 years. As a trailblazer in cancer stem cell biology, he is best known for his research on hematopoiesis, leukemia, and hematopoietic stem cells.

Dr. Weissman's fascination with microbiology began at the age of ten after reading Microbe Hunters. The book taught him the role of microbes in vaccine development, and, more importantly, the principle that scientific discoveries can be translated for clinical use. Decades later, at Stanford University Medical School, Dr. Weissman worked in stem cell research. After graduation, his research journey continued: in 1988, his laboratory was the first to discover and isolate blood-forming stem cells from mice, and in 1992 he published the first isolation of human blood-forming stem cells. From there, the group began pivotal clinical trials on women with metastatic breast cancer. They developed a method to isolate the blood-forming stem cells free from the cancer cells, enabling these cells to be delivered back to patients after chemotherapy as treatment for the underlying disease. This discovery revolutionized the cancer community’s understanding of stem cells’ role in drug development.. Dr. Weissman and colleagues later discovered that CD47, an age marker on red blood cells that scientists can use to detect emerging cancerous stem cells, could be targeted with blocking antibodies to treat blood cancers with low-dose azacytidine and drug-resistant lymphomas when paired with rituximab. Dr. Weissman’s work established hematopoietic stem cells as the paradigm for mammalian stem cell biology and transformed the way scientists and physicians approach blood cancers in the lab and clinic.

Peter Hillmen, MD, PhD, University of Leeds School of Medicine, Emeritus Professor
John Atkinson, MD, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis
Ernest Beutler Lecture and Prize

This award recognizes the work of Dr. Hillmen for his 30 years of research on paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH), a rare genetic blood disease that causes red blood cells to break apart, and Dr. Atkinson's discovery of an immune system regulator, termed membrane cofactor protein (MCP). Both breakthroughs have advanced our understanding of the complement system, a fundamental component of the human immune system that plays a significant role in the manifestation of many blood disorders.

Dr. Hillmen established the National PNH Service in the United Kingdom, which has served more than 1000 patients with the rare disease. He is an extraordinarily accomplished researcher and has published more than 250 research articles, approximately half focusing on PNH biology, treatment, and outcomes. Dr. Hillmen additionally developed and led a series of clinical trials on eculizumab, a drug that has since transformed PNH treatment and significantly increased survival rates for patients with PNH. His research interests extend beyond PNH and across many facets of hematology, but all with the common theme of understanding the immune system's underlying role in hematologic disease.

Dr. Atkinson has spent his professional career dedicated to understanding the role of the complement system, a network of proteins in the immune system. Notably, he and his colleagues were the first to discover a previously unknown regulator of the complement system, MCP, which is now more commonly referred to as CD46. CD46 is expressed on nearly every human cell and protects healthy cells from complement system-mediated damage. Remarkably, this protein now functions in many human vaccines, demonstrating its broad role in human disease. Dr. Atkinson's interest in the complement system was piqued in 1971 when he served as an infectious disease consultant at the National Institutes of Health. Later, in 1976, at Washington University School of Medicine, he was appointed to direct the Rheumatology Division and became an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. After establishing his first independent laboratory, he continued studying the intersection of hematology and immunology as it relates to the complement system.

James Gavin, MD, PhD, Emory University School of Medicine, Indiana University School of Medicine
David Wilkes, MD, University of Virginia School of Medicine
Leadership in Promoting Diversity

Dr. Gavin and Dr. Wilkes are being honored for their decades of commitment to diversity in medicine through their leadership of the Harold Amos Medical Faculty Development Program (AMFDP) of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Together they have contributed 28 years of service to the program and continue to serve as eminent leaders in their respective fields. Since 1983, AMFDP has supported 330 scholars, many of whom have gone on to be professors, department chairs, and leaders at the National Institutes of Health and the National Academy of Medicine.

Dr. Gavin has participated in AMFDP for 39 years and served as director for 20 years. His contributions were instrumental in shaping the ASH-AMDFP partnership to increase diversity in hematology. Early in his career, he became fascinated with diabetes, a disease that had affected his family and continues to affect African American populations disproportionately. He devoted his life’s research to uncovering ways to improve diabetes outcomes. Beyond his own research, Dr. Gavin served as a role model for many medical trainees. Through AMFDP, he learned how influential mentorship could be on student success. He guided many students and trainees through their medical careers and is devoted to helping underrepresented students in medicine overcome systemic barriers to entry. Dr. Gavin’s most notable accomplishments include serving as the first African American president of the American Diabetes Association, the president of the Morehouse School of Medicine, and a senior science officer at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute-NIH Scholars program. He has made unparalleled contributions to medicine through his pioneering research in diabetes, leadership, advocacy, and, most notably, his dedication to advancing the careers of students, trainees, and physician-scientists.

Dr. Wilkes has served as the national director of AMFDP since 2013 and has given several national presentations and published many studies on eliminating bias and reducing discrimination in health professions. He is a leading physician and scientist who has made significant contributions to immunology and is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine. As a pulmonologist and critical care physician, he focuses on research to uncover what drives the immunology of lung transplant rejections. Throughout his career, Dr. Wilkes and his colleagues have worked to understand the mechanisms behind graft-versus-host-disease (GVHD). Their work led to the development of a drug for pulmonary fibrosis, the endpoint of lung transplant rejection caused by GVHD. Dr. Wilkes is motivated to promote diversity in hematology because of the profound ways that unique perspectives improve academic medicine and increase cultural competency in patient care.

Irene Ghobrial, MD, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
William Dameshek Prize

Dr. Ghobrial is being recognized for her research on the mechanisms underlying disease progression in myeloma. Through her work, she has challenged standard myeloma patient care by leading screening for early detection of the disease, uncovering novel biomarkers for risk stratification, and disrupting the traditional myeloma treatment paradigm with innovative trials in smoldering myeloma. While Dr. Ghobrial has made many significant contributions to her field, her most notable research accomplishments include leading, PROMISE, the first screening study in the US and the first study to ever screen high-risk individuals. PROMISE detected MGUS/SMM, a precursor molecule for myeloma, in more than 30,000 individuals deemed to be at high risk of developing myeloma, many of whom are African American and first-degree relatives of patients with myeloma. Dr. Ghobrial and her colleagues are also pioneering early-intervention prevention strategies for myeloma using CAR-T cells.

Bruce Blazar, MD, University of Minnesota Medical School
E. Donnall Thomas Lecture and Prize

Dr. Blazar has made innumerable contributions to the field of transplantation immunology and stem cell biology. His research has focused on designing strategies to reduce blood and bone marrow transplant complications. His lab is currently working on developing new therapies that prevent and treat acute and chronic graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), a donor anti-host immune reaction resulting in inflammation and cell-mediated destruction (acute GVHD), or later after transplant, fibrosis that can affect virtually any organ in the body (chronic GVHD). Dr. Blazar’s early contributions to preventing acute GVHD included preclinical modeling of commonly used immunosuppressant drugs as well as CTLA4-Ig, a recombinant fusion protein that blocks the specific T cell immune response to host antigens. The latter recently became the first U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) drug for acute GVHD prophylaxis. In more current chronic GVHD studies, he discovered that donor germinal center B cells that produce anti-host antibodies can work in concert with macrophages to cause chronic GVHD. His lab’s paradigm-shifting research in preclinical chronic GVHD modeling contributed to each of the three FDA-approved chronic GVHD drugs.

Timothy Ley, MD, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis
Robert Montgomery, MD, Versiti Blood Research Institute 
Henry M. Stratton Medal

Dr. Ley, the basic science awardee, is being recognized for leading the effort to sequence the first human cancer genomes, from patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). These studies helped to create a foundation for the Cancer Genome Atlas, and the discovery of many previously unknown drivers of AML. His research focuses on understanding the molecular underpinnings of AML, including the acquired mutations and altered gene expression patterns responsible for the disease’s initiation, progression, and relapse. He is currently studying AML initiating events, and how they "reprogram" hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells to make them more fit for transformation. He hopes that mechanism-based targeting of the initiating events may provide new approaches for treating myeloid malignancies.

Dr. Montgomery, the translational/clinical awardee, is being recognized for his substantial contributions to understanding hemophilia, von Willebrand disease (VWD), and interactions between von Willebrand factor (VWF) and Factor VIII (FVIII), both of which are critical components of hemostasis. Dr. Montgomery was the first to identify what became known as the VWF propeptide that shepherds the trafficking, bond formation, and storage of mature VWF within endothelial cells. He has led a VWD Program Project since 2005 that has identified problems with the stringency of VWD diagnosis, new causes of variant VWD, new functional assays for VWF, and developed rodent models of variant VWD and hemophilia. He also developed a novel approach for gene therapy of hemophilia A with inhibitors using ectopic expression of FVIII in platelets that binds, stores with VWF, and releases FVIII at sites of vessel injury where it is functional even in presence of high-titer FVIII inhibitory antibodies. His research has not only advanced our fundamental understanding of VWF and FVIII biosynthesis and function but also translated to the clinical diagnosis and management of VWD patients.

Michael Caligiuri, MD, City of Hope National Medical Center
Christopher Flowers, MD, MS, MD Anderson Cancer Center
Mentor Award

Dr. Caligiuri has dedicated much of his career to mentoring the next generation of physicians, scientists, and physician-scientists: over the last three decades, he has mentored more than 100 individuals and has had a profound impact on their careers. Dr. Caligiuri first realized his passion for mentorship after struggling in physiology class while in medical school. He searched for ways to break down complex concepts and developed his own lectures. After the chair of the department allowed him to deliver two of his lectures to first-year medical students, he saw the effect his teaching abilities had on fellow students; he received the highest evaluation scores among all the lecturers in the year-long course and continued to deliver the lectures for his remaining time in medical school. Dr. Caligiuri derives great satisfaction from giving educational and career advice based on his own 35-year journey in academic medicine and the excellent guidance he received throughout his career from his mentor, the late Clara D. Bloomfield, MD. He has played a critical role in supporting ASH’s Minority Medical Student award program (MMSAP) and has fostered the careers of many students who have pursued hematology professionally. He has made a special effort to foster diversity and inclusion in medicine by leading, along with his wife Ani, “Diversity, Dialogue and Dinner,” where Black medical students, physicians, and community leaders came together to discuss the inherent challenges they faced in their professional lives as a result of their race. Dr. Caligiuri’s own research focuses on exploring human natural killer cell biology and immune therapy for the treatment of hematologic malignancies and solid tumors.

Dr. Flowers is a leading lymphoma provider and world-renowned epidemiology expert who has served as a research mentor and advocate for his mentees throughout their careers. Dr. Flowers is committed to recruiting and mentoring underrepresented minorities and co-developed the ASH Minority Recruitment Initiative (MRI), which provides a 13-year pipeline of awards extending from the first year of medical school to faculty positions. Dr. Flowers first realized his passion for mentorship as a medical student, when he studied the work of a group of physicians who served as “clinical champions” and dramatically sped the process of drug development. This inspired Dr. Flowers to become a clinical champion himself. Later, his formative experiences with his own mentors through his residency and fellowships inspired him to pay such guidance forward. His formal mentoring roles have included sponsoring participants in the ASH Minority Medical Student Award Program, the ASH Amos Minority Faculty Development Program, and many other training programs. He also served as a faculty member and Co-Chair of the ASH Clinical Research Training Institute (CRTI). Dr. Flowers’ own clinical research has primarily focused on developing observational studies, which are now viewed as “real-world evidence,” and he currently leads a large multi-center cohort study in lymphoma.

The awards will be presented during the 64th ASH Annual Meeting, December 10-13, 2022, in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Learn more about the ASH Honorific Awards.

The American Society of Hematology (ASH) (www.hematology.org) is the world’s largest professional society of hematologists dedicated to furthering the understanding, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disorders affecting the blood. For more than 60 years, the Society has led the development of hematology as a discipline by promoting research, patient care, education, training, and advocacy in hematology. ASH’s flagship journal, Blood (www.bloodjournal.org), is the most cited peer-reviewed publication in the field, and Blood Advances (www.bloodadvances.org) is the Society’s online, peer-reviewed open-access journal.

Kira Sampson, American Society of Hematology
[email protected], 202-499-1796