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Like everyone, hundreds of emails land in my inbox every day. Inevitably, I miss some of them and they end up coming back with a reminder. Luckily, I caught a reminder email this week from the Susan G. Komen organization asking me to fill out a survey to capture my feedback on the 2023 Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Research Awards event that they held during the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS) in December. Indeed, I had felt greatly honored when my dear friend, awardee, and ASCO past president Daniel F. Hayes, MD, FACP, FASCO, invited me to attend the ceremony in San Antonio, TX. Answering the survey prompted me to share my experience from the event, including excerpts from the speakers’ notes.

In line with Susan G. Komen’s mission “to save lives by meeting the most critical needs in our communities and investing in breakthrough research to prevent and cure breast cancer,” Jennifer A. Pietenpol, PhD (co-chief scientific advisor at Susan G. Komen and chief scientific and strategy officer and executive vice president for research at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center) and Ann H. Partridge, MD, MPH, FASCO (co-chief scientific advisor at Susan G. Komen and vice chair of medical oncology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute) opened the ceremony by briefing us about the achievements of the five outstanding individuals and their dedication to furthering the understanding of cancer and discovering new therapies, and for the impact they had on the lives of millions of patients worldwide.

This year’s recipients were indeed distinguished leaders in their fields and have dedicated their careers to improve diagnosis, outcomes, and quality of life as well advancing personalized therapy for patients. 

The Research Advocacy Champion Award was newly introduced in 2023 “to recognize the work of an emerging or established leader in research advocacy who is highly effective in ensuring that the unique and valuable perspectives of patients with breast cancer, cancer survivors, and cancer cosurvivors are integrated into the scientific dialogue to drive progress, improve patient outcomes, and help realize Susan G. Komen’s vision of a world without breast cancer.” This award went to Patricia A. Spears, BS, FASCO, scientific research manager and director of the Patient Advocates for Research Council at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and Susan G. Komen Advocates in Science, cancer research patient advocate, and cancer survivor. She was honored for her decades-long commitment to research advocacy, advancing clinical trials, communicating research to the public, and mentoring the next generation of patient advocates.

The 2023 Rising Star Researcher Awards, also newly introduced in 2023 “to celebrate mid-career investigators whose work has demonstrated the potential to significantly impact the field of breast cancer research and who have displayed strong leadership skills in the breast cancer community,” went to Sara M. Tolaney, MD, MPH, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and associate director of the of the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers, who was recognized for her significant contributions to the development of novel treatment regimens involving less toxic therapies to improve patient outcomes and quality of life, and to Gaorav P. Gupta, MD, PhD, associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and associate chair for research in the Department of Radiation Oncology, who was acknowledged for his seminal research on the interplay between genome integrity pathways and breast cancer initiation, progression, and response to therapy. His research may translate to innovative strategies for assessing treatment, including the use of noninvasive liquid biopsy.

As for the traditional Susan G. Komen Brinker Awards to honor leaders in basic science and clinical research, they went to Olufunmilayo F. Olopade, MBBS, FAACR, FASCO, and to Dr. Hayes. Dr. Olopade, who is the Walter L. Palmer Distinguished Service Professor of Medicine and Human Genetics as well as founding director of the Center for Clinical Cancer Genetics and associate dean for global health at The University of Chicago, received the Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction in Basic Science. She has pioneered research on identifying cancer-predisposing gene variants that may be prevalent in certain ancestral populations, improved identification of pathogenic variants, and enhanced prevention and early detection efforts for patients living in underserved communities around the world.

Dr. Hayes, who is the Stuart B. Padnos Professor of Breast Cancer Research at the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center and professor of medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School, received the Brinker Award for Clinical Research. Dr. Hayes created novel tumor biomarker tests that are used globally to assess prognosis and predict chemotherapy response, recurrence, and treatment side effects in patients. His research has accelerated the development of precision care and therapeutics for patients with breast cancer and enabled precise monitoring of patients after treatment, so they can receive the most effective individualized treatments. On a personal Michiganian note, Dan Hayes is a wonderful friend, beloved by his colleagues, mentors, mentees, and patients. He served as a remarkable ASCO president in 2016-2017. Dan ended his nice brief talk by saying, “I think, like all of you, I like to look back and say: ‘I did good.’” Dan, you and all four other awardees certainly did good. Thank you and congratulations!

The whole ceremony was a wonderful occasion to meet and network with old and new friends and colleagues in basic and clinical research. Awards are nice recognitions of senior physicians, researchers, and advocates, and also are a stimulus for us to continue mentoring junior physicians, researchers, and advocates on whom the oncology community relies upon to continue paving the path of science and research to advance patient care, improve people’s lives, and prevent cancer. Susan K. Komen is indeed a great institution that is helping to improve patients’ lives worldwide and deserves full support from all of us.

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