Kristine M. Conner
Medical Correspondent, OncoLink
Last Modified: November 2, 1999
Giulio J. D'Angio, M.D., and J. Martin Brown, Ph.D., were presented with ASTRO's highest honor, the Gold Medal Award, at a ceremony this morning. Dr. D'Angio is Professor of Radiation Oncology at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, and Dr. Brown is Professor and Director, Division of Radiation Biology, and Director of the Program in Cancer Biology at Stanford University. Both were honored for decades of outstanding contributions to the field of radiation oncology.
Patrick R. Thomas, M.D., introduced Dr. D'Angio as "undoubtedly one of the great figures in Pediatric Oncology, and Pediatric Radiotherapy in particular." He praised Dr. D'Angio's early work on the relationship of actinomycin-D and radiation therapy as "seminal." Dr. Thomas described him as "one of the first to understand that adult doses and fields applied to children could be devastating for the growth, development, and health of the cured patient." He held up Dr. D'Angio's work on the now thirty-year-old National Wilms Tumor Study as an "amazingly fruitful" contribution to cancer research that has provided an important model for other studies. Dr. Thomas also praised Dr. D'Angio for his qualities as a mentor and teacher, both in his work with students at the University of Pennsylvania and with scientists and physicians overseas.
In accepting the award, Dr. D'Angio first pointed to the slide projected on the screen behind him, which showed him holding a baby to his chest. "Gold Medal Awards are fine and good," he said, "but that baby didn't survive." With characteristic humility, he noted that more work remains to be done to ensure that all children survive. He gave credit to the early mentors with whom he worked at Boston Children's Hospital for shaping the course of his career. These men influenced what he called the "guideposts" for his work with young cancer patients: first, the conviction that "cure is not enough," and second, the need to look beyond the disease itself to provide "total care" for the patient and family. "It is our responsibility to make sure that the cured child of today is not the deformed adult of tomorrow," he added, a reference to the late effects of radiation therapy.
Dr. D'Angio called for improved cooperation among the radiation therapists, chemotherapists, and surgeons who care for children with cancer. Radiation therapists should not perceive themselves as having to "defend their turf" against chemotherapists, he stated. Physicians in all three specialties must not look upon each other as the enemy, but instead focus on defending children against cancer. That means working together and letting the child's best interests determine what treatment or treatments should be used.
Finally, Dr. D'Angio addressed the young people in the audience-"some of you perhaps not so young anymore," he added playfully-with whom he has worked over the course of his career. "It's been a privilege and a pleasure," he told them, recalling the many hours spent collaborating on research. "Those have been my golden hours in medicine, and I would not trade them for all the gold in Byzantium," he added. "You have realized the alchemist's dream. You have become my own gold medals that I wear in my heart."
Dr. Eric Hall then took the podium to introduce the second award winner, his colleague and friend Martin Brown. A native of Yorkshire, England, Dr. Brown was educated at the University of Birmingham and earned his doctorate at Oxford University. Dr. Hall recalled how his friend went to America and drove across country to accept a post-doctoral position at Stanford University. He never left Stanford and has risen through the ranks to his present position. Dr. Hall praised Dr. Brown's work on drug development as "world-class," emphasizing how few researchers ever see their agents achieve any success in clinical trials. "His work on Tirapazimine has been widely applauded and recognized," he said, and its "recognition in the wider world of cancer research brings credit to the whole radiological field." He also praised Dr. Brown for his contributions beyond the field of research, calling him both a "gifted teacher and lecturer."
Dr. Brown showed his sense of humor in accepting the award, using a poem he had written and a slide show to give a quick overview of his career. He recalled arriving at Stanford during the height of the Vietnam era and being struck by the contrast between the turmoil in America and the relative calm in England. But he managed to carry on with his work, which at that time focused on how to make tumors lose their resistance to radiation. He believed that the fact that they were hypoxic might hold the key, so he set out to develop radiosensitizers that would target hypoxic cells. When these did not prove successful in the clinic, he shifted his focus to developing agents that would actually kill hypoxic cells. This led to the development of the drug Tirapazimine.
Like Dr. D'Angio, Dr. Brown finished his acceptance by paying tribute to the young researchers with whom he has worked at Stanford over the years. His final slide pictured his current laboratory staff at Stanford, whom he thanked for their invaluable contributions to his work.
Editors Note: As one of the "not so young anymore," with whom Dr. D'Angio has worked over the course of his career, I can honestly say that there has never been a more inspiring mentor. It is Dr. D'Angio alone who fostered my own career in pediatric radiation oncology. Speaking on behalf of my peers, the privilege has been all ours.
Joel W. Goldwein, MD