Cancer prevention pioneer receives AACR/Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation Award

October 09, 2003

High-dose retinoic acid - a vitamin A derivative - can prevent the occurrence of new head and neck cancers in patients initially cured by surgery, radiation therapy or a combination of the two, according to more than two decades of research by Waun Ki Hong, M.D. He and his colleagues at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center were among the early pioneers who showed proof of principle that a drug can be used to prevent cancer before it has a chance to begin. Their studies demonstrated that high doses of retinoids can suppress or reverse pre-cancerous lesions in the mouth as well as thwart the development of new tumors.

In recognition of Dr. Hong's groundbreaking work, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) and the Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation (CRPF) announced today that he is the recipient of the second annual AACR-CRPF Award for Excellence in Cancer Prevention Research. Last year's inaugural award went to Michael B. Sporn, M.D., of Dartmouth Medical School, who was lauded for his stellar work in the basic science of chemoprevention.

"Dr. Hong's vision, passion and zeal for cancer prevention and its potential have accelerated the pace of growth in the field," said Margaret Foti, Ph.D., M.D. (h.c.), AACR chief executive officer.

"Many of the first, definitive proofs of principle for chemoprevention came from the translational research by Dr. Hong and his colleagues," she added, noting that his research has opened the door to less toxic and more effective chemopreventive agents and regimens for individuals at high risk for cancer.

From his office in Houston, Dr. Hong said, "Chemoprevention is a highly promising field with tremendous potential for changing the impact cancer has on our society. I feel very lucky to have been one of the people to open the door to an area with such exciting possibilities."

When clinical trials suggested that chemoprevention wasn't potent enough alone to reverse more advanced pre-cancerous lesions, Dr. Hong created a new approach he termed "biochemoprevention" - treating people with a combination of chemopreventive and chemotherapeutic agents. He achieved dramatic results by augmenting vitamin A derivatives with two biological agents - a-tocopherol and interferon-a - especially in people with advanced lesions of the throat. Furthermore, the combination appears to be effective in reducing both primary and recurrent cancers.

Based on these early successes, Dr. Hong expanded his work to lung cancer, conducting clinical chemoprevention trials in former smokers, who have genetic damage to their lung tissue and thus are at higher risk for developing lung cancer years after they stop smoking. Currently, Dr. Hong and his researchers are working to identify new chemopreventive agents, new biochemopreventive approaches, and genetic markers that predict lung cancer.

"Much of my work has been and continues to be focused on finding ways to identify the body's early processes that lead to cancer, pinpointing genetic changes long before they become cancerous, and reversing the process with therapy agents that destroy the cancer at its origin.

"I envision a future in which we can screen people for susceptibility to certain cancers with a simple blood test and prevent those cancers from ever gaining a foothold through chemoprevention, lifestyle changes, and other measures. That day is not as far off as many people think." Dr. Hong said.

Dr. Hong is the head of the Division of Cancer Medicine and chairman of the Department of Thoracic/Head & Neck Medical Oncology at M. D. Anderson, where he has served in a variety of clinical, academic, and research capacities since 1984. He is the author of nearly 500 journal articles and he lectures extensively at national and international oncology meetings. He will present a major lecture entitled "Molecular-based Cancer Chemoprevention: Strategy for Impact" at the second annual AACR Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research meeting. This premier, international meeting on cancer prevention research will be held October 26-30, 2003, in Phoenix, Ariz.

From 2001 to 2002, Dr. Hong also served as President of the AACR, and he leads the AACR's task force on cancer prevention. He was the founding "Champion of the AACR Prevention Series."
The AACR is pleased to co-sponsor this award with the Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation. CRPF is a national, nonprofit health foundation with a single mission: the prevention and early detection of cancer through scientific research and education. Over the years, CRPF has made major contributions to ongoing programs of the AACR and therefore has been named "Champion of the AACR."

Founded in 1907, the American Association for Cancer Research is a professional society of more than 21,000 laboratory, translational, and clinical scientists engaged in cancer research in the United States and in more than 60 other countries. AACR's mission is to accelerate the prevention and cure of cancer through research, education, communication, and advocacy. Its principal activities include the publication of five major peer-reviewed scientific journals: Cancer Research; Clinical Cancer Research, on which Dr. Hong serves as deputy editor; Molecular Cancer Therapeutics; Molecular Cancer Research; and Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. AACR's annual meetings - next year in Orlando, Fla., March 27-31 - attract more than 15,000 participants who share new and significant discoveries in the cancer field. Specialty meetings, held throughout the year, focus on the latest developments in all areas of cancer research.

American Association for Cancer Research

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