Ching-Hon Pui, M.D., a pediatric oncologist at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, has received the 2020 Medal of Honor from the American Cancer Society.
Each year, the American Cancer Society bestows the Medal of Honor to distinguished individuals or foundations who have made advances of unique magnitude in the understanding, diagnosis, treatment, cure and prevention of cancer and whose professional careers have engendered widespread feelings of admiration and respect.
"I am both humbled and honored by this award," Pui said. "It represents four decades of research into biology and treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia. I would like to share this award not only with my St. Jude team members but also with the children we have the privilege to care for."
Pui began his career as a resident at St. Jude in 1977 after graduating from medical school in Taiwan. At that time, the cure rate for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the most common pediatric cancer, was only 40%. Pui has played a central role in developing a series of clinical trials responsible for raising survival rates of ALL to 94% at St. Jude today.
Many of Pui's research findings have stimulated changes in clinical practice that are now widely accepted in the global pediatric oncology community. His work has shown that cranial irradiation, once regarded as a standard treatment for childhood ALL, can be omitted altogether, thus sparing patients from devastating side effects and improving survivors' quality of life.
Additionally, Pui has shown that with equal access to effective antileukemic treatment, high rates of cure can be extended to diverse ethnic, racial and socioeconomic groups in the United States. Through his scientific and administrative leadership in various organizations, he has opened the way for improved leukemia treatment in developing countries worldwide. Pui's passion to help children with ALL, including those in low- and middle-income countries, led him to help found the Ponte di Legno study group. This global organization includes 15 major national study groups.
Since 2006, Pui has organized an annual teaching conference on childhood cancer in Asia - the St. Jude VIVA Forum. He successfully enacted a cost-effective ALL treatment protocol in China. The result was that ALL became the first childhood disease covered by the new Chinese Medical Insurance Policy. This action gave thousands of children access to treatment. Great leaps in the survival rate of childhood leukemia have triggered several national-level activities in China that contribute substantially to global research initiatives.
Since 1977, Pui has authored more than 1000 original articles and chapters, edited nine books and monographs, and served as section editor or editorial board member for several esteemed scientific research journals. He is one of the most highly cited authors in clinical medicine research.
Today, Pui chairs the Department of Oncology at St. Jude and serves as an American Cancer Society Professor. He is also co-leader of the hospital's Hematological Malignancies Program; medical director of the St. Jude Global China Program; and holder of the Fahad Nassar Al-Rashid Chair of Leukemia Research. Pui has been a dedicated mentor to scores of young clinical investigators, many of whom have become model leaders in pediatric oncology.
"Dr. Pui is a beloved pediatrician, translational researcher and educator who has been pioneering advances in treatment of pediatric leukemia for more than 40 years," said James R. Downing, M.D., president and CEO of St. Jude. "Yet still today, you will find him working tirelessly toward the day when we achieve a 100% cure rate. We at St. Jude are grateful to the American Cancer Society for recognizing him."
Originally called the American Cancer Society Award, the Medal of Honor was first presented in 1949. Candidates for the Medal of Honor are nominated by members of the ACS board of directors and other individuals.
The three 2020 recipients are Pui, for clinical research; Lewis C. Cantley, Ph.D., for basic research (Meyer Cancer Center, Weill Cornell Medical College); and Leslie Bernstein, Ph.D., for cancer control (City of Hope).
"We are privileged to honor these leaders in the cancer community for their significant lifetime achievements to save lives from cancer," said Gary M. Reedy, CEO of the American Cancer Society. "We acknowledge these individuals with our highest honor for their extraordinary contributions and dedication to fighting cancer."
The recipients will be recognized at a black-tie ceremony in New York Nov. 11. To learn more about the American Cancer Society awards programs, visit >cancer.org.