CHICAGO — The American Association for Cancer Research awards Maura L. Gillison, M.D., Ph.D., with the 36th Annual AACR Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Memorial Award during the AACR Annual Meeting 2012. Gillison is receiving this award in recognition of her significant contributions to the understanding of the role of human papillomavirus (HPV) in head and neck cancers.
“It is an honor to be the recipient of this award,” said Gillison. “Our team strives to generate data that will improve the lives of individuals affected by head and neck cancers, and this is a wonderful validation that we are on the right track.”
This award is designed to provide incentive to young investigators early in their careers. It was established in 1977 by the AACR and the Rosenthal Family Foundation to recognize research that has made, or promises to make, a notable contribution to improved clinical care in the field of cancer.
Gillison is a professor of medicine, epidemiology and otolaryngology and the Jeg Coughlin Chair of Cancer Research at Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute in Columbus, Ohio. She is also adjunct faculty at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in Baltimore, Md. Her seminal research on the role of HPV in head and neck cancers revolutionized the specialty. Her research has demonstrated that HPV infection causes a distinct molecular, clinical and pathological subset of head and neck squamous cell carcinomas.
In a landmark case-control study, Gillison identified oral sexual behavior and HPV infection as risk factors for oropharyngeal cancer, findings that led the International Agency for Research on Cancer to formally recognize HPV-16 as a significant cause of oropharyngeal cancers.
Results of other key studies conducted by Gillison and her colleagues showed that tumor HPV status is one of the single greatest predictors of survival in head and neck cancer. As a result, multiple organizations now advocate routine HPV testing of oropharyngeal cancer patients. Clinical trial designs have also been amended to adopt HPV testing as a means by which to stratify various cancer subsets, allowing for better targeted therapies and treatment regimens. Additionally, Gillison established the gold standard of HPV diagnostic tests, currently in use within clinics nationwide. Currently, she is the principal investigator of the first phase III trial focused on HPV-positive head and neck cancers, which began enrolling patients in 2011.
Gillison has led several studies in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that have examined the effects of HPV infection on head and neck cancer at the population level. She has also been the leader in development of methods for oral HPV detection, which will facilitate the development of primary and secondary prevention strategies for the cancer she characterized.
Gillison’s work has had, and will continue to have, significant public health implications. Her group’s recent research established that HPV has been the cause of a dramatic increase in the incidence of oropharyngeal cancer in the United States during the last 20 years.
Currently, the burden of HPV-caused cancers is shifting from women to men, a trend that is anticipated to continue throughout the next decade. In 2011, such data were presented to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which now recommends that all preteen boys aged 11 to 12 be vaccinated against HPV.