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James R. Downing to Receive ASH's 2017 E. Donnall Thomas Lecture Prize

Samantha Hitchcock
Published Online:9:59 AM, Tue November 28, 2017

James R. Downing, MD
The American Society of Hematology (ASH) has announced that James R. Downing, MD, of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital will be awarded the 2017 E. Donnall Thomas Lecture and Prize for his discoveries related to the hematopathology and molecular biology of childhood leukemia.

The prize is given to recognize great achievements in hematology that represent a paradigm shift for the field. Downing, a renowned leader in pediatric cancer research, will receive his award and present his lecture, “The Molecular Pathology of Pediatric Acute Leukemia,” at the 59th ASH annual meeting and exposition, on December 11 in Atlanta, Georgia. During his lecture, he will address advancements in the field of pediatric acute leukemia over the past 15 years.

Dr Downing is currently the president and chief executive at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where he is also the director of the Molecular Pathology Laboratory and the Donald Pinkel Chair of Childhood Cancer Treatment.

Downing’s work is focused on acute lymphocytic leukemia and acute myeloblastic leukemia, with an emphasis on core-binding factor leukemias. In his research, he pioneered the concept that advanced genomic tools could be used to better predict disease prognosis and began the first comprehensive genome sequencing analysis of childhood cancers, the Pediatric Cancer Genome Project.

In addition to serving on multiple editorial boards for journals such as Cancer Discover, Cancer Cell, and Oncogene, he has also published his work in numerous journals, including Blood, Cell, Nature Genetics, New England Journal of Medicine, and the Journal of Clinical Investigation. He has received countless awards, including the American Society for Clinical Pathology Philip Levine Award for Outstanding Research, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Kenneth B. McCredie Memorial Lecturer, and the Association for Molecular Pathology Award for Excellence. In 2013, he was recognized by TIME as a finalist for the 100 most influential people in the world list.

 “Dr Downing is a visionary in hematology who has pioneered the use of genomic profiling and big data collection to improve care for children with blood cancers,” Kenneth C. Anderson, MD, of the Lebow Institute for Myeloma Therapeutics and Jerome Lipper Myeloma Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and president of ASH, said in a statement. “His ability to develop, shape, and refine scientifically-based therapies has made it possible to use precision medicine to treat pediatric leukemia. His translation research has markedly improved patient outcomes and provided a model for other cancers.”

In addition to his scientific and clinical research, Downing is highly regarded as a mentor and leader. His work has awarded him several additional awards, including the Association for Molecular Pathology Award for Excellence in Molecular Diagnostics, the Society of Memorial Sloan Kettering Prize and fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He additionally has served on a Blue Ribbon Panel to advise former vice president Joe Biden’s National Cancer Moonshot Initiative through the National Cancer Institute. In 2016, he was also elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; he also was elected into the National Academy of Medicine.

Downing received his medical degree at the University of Michigan. He later completed his residency in anatomic pathology at Washington University in St. Louis and a fellowship in hematopathology at the University of Florida in Gainesville. In 1986, he joined St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

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