Waun Ki Hong and Helen Piwnica-Worms elected to Institute of Medicine

MD Anderson News Release 10/22/13

Two leaders at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center have been elected to the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academies in recognition of their contributions to medical science and health care.

Election of Waun Ki Hong, M.D., head of Cancer Medicine, and Helen Piwnica-Worms, Ph.D., vice provost, science, by members of the elite institution was announced Monday by the IOM.

“Membership in the Institute of Medicine is powerful recognition by outstanding peers of the impact Dr. Hong and Dr. Piwnica-Worms have had as researchers and leaders in advancing our understanding and treatment of cancer,” said Ethan Dmitrovsky, M.D., provost and executive vice president at MD Anderson.

“Their election reflects two truths about MD Anderson today. Waun Ki Hong personifies the institution’s established excellence in patient care and research. Helen Piwnica-Worms is an exceptional scientist who came to MD Anderson recently to help carry out our mission to eradicate cancer,” Dmitrovsky said.

Membership in the IOM recognizes people who have demonstrated outstanding professional achievement and commitment to service.

"It’s an honor to welcome our highly distinguished colleagues to the Institute of Medicine," said IOM President Harvey V. Fineberg. "These individuals have inspired us through their achievements in research, teaching, clinical work, and other contributions to the medical field. Their knowledge and skills will deeply enrich the IOM."

Leaders in clinical, translational research

As vice provost, Piwnica-Worms oversees MD Anderson’s preclinical research, which seeks to better understand the precise mechanisms underlying the generation of malignant cells, forming the basis for identifying new targets and developing new treatment.

Trained as a basic scientist, her research identified an important molecular pathway and drug target that led her into translational research – moving scientific findings from lab to clinic – to collaborate with clinicians on two clinical trials.

“I’m incredibly honored to be elected to the IOM and grateful for the dedicated collaborators, student and postdoctoral fellows who are so important to any successful effort in this challenging field,” Piwnica-Worms said.

Her research focuses on new drug combinations for triple-negative breast cancer and is tied into MD Anderson’s Breast and Ovarian Cancer Moon Shot. Piwnica-Worms came to MD Anderson earlier this year after 19 years at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program is designed to speed the pace of converting scientific discoveries into clinical advances that reduce cancer deaths.

Hong leads the division that encompasses MD Anderson’s clinical oncology departments.
“For an academician, anyone involved in research, patient care and education, election to the IOM is a great honor,” Hong said. “I must thank the wonderful colleagues and trainees who have been so important to the teamwork required to advance our knowledge of cancer and apply it to help our patients.”

Hong’s clinical and translational research was instrumental in opening entirely new approaches to cancer prevention and treatment. He pioneered treatment that spared affected organs from surgical removal; provided proof of principle for chemoprevention – the treatment of precancerous lesions to prevent disease; and led a path-breaking clinical trial in targeted therapy that used patient lung cancer tumor biopsies to match treatment to tumor.

MD Anderson’s Lung Cancer Moon Shot incorporates Hong’s leadership in targeted therapies.

Seven IOM members at MD Anderson

With the addition of Piwnica-Worms and Hong, MD Anderson has seven IOM members: President Ronald DePinho, M.D.; John Mendelsohn, M.D., former president and director of the Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Institute for Personalized Cancer Therapy; Ellen Gritz, Ph.D., chair of Behavioral Science; James Allison, Ph.D., chair of Immunology; and Lynda Chin, M.D., chair of Genomic Medicine and scientific director of the Institute for Applied Cancer Science.

Established in 1970, the IOM also serves an important advisory role, with panels of members volunteering to study important issues in medical science, health care and public health. IOM projects during the past year include studies of the benefits of including physical activity in the school environment, direct health outcomes of sodium intake, regional variations in Medicare spending, child abuse and neglect in the U.S., improved delivery of cancer care, the commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of minors in the U.S., post-deployment needs of Iraq and Afghanistan service members, gun violence research priorities and the problem of illegitimate and substandard medications.