James R. Downing, MD, to Present the 2017 ASH E. Donnall Thomas Lecture

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James R. Downing, MD

James R. Downing, MD

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

This lectureship and prize is named after the late Nobel Prize laureate and Past President of ASH E. Donnall Thomas, MD. The E. Donnall Thomas Lecture and Prize recognizes pioneering research achievements in hematology that represent a paradigm shift or significant discovery in the field.

Dr. Downing will present his lecture, “The Molecular Pathology of Pediatric Acute Leukemia,” on December 11, at the 59th ASH Annual Meeting and Exposition in Atlanta. His lecture will focus on progress that has been made over the past 15 years in advancing our understanding of pediatric acute leukemia and how this information is increasing cure rates.

Focus on Leukemias

Dr. Downing, President and Chief Executive Officer at St. Jude, has focused his work on acute lymphocytic leukemia and acute myeloblastic leukemia, with a particular emphasis on the so-called core-binding factor leukemias. He pioneered the concept that the tools of advanced genomics could be used to better predict disease prognosis.

Dr. Downing also embarked on the first comprehensive genome-sequencing analysis of childhood cancers—the Pediatric Cancer Genome Project—which has sequenced the normal and cancer genomes of more than 700 pediatric cancer patients with some of the least understood and most aggressive tumors and led to groundbreaking discoveries in a number of pediatric cancers as well as computational algorithms that are now used worldwide for genomic analysis.

Training and Awards

In addition to his scientific and clinical accomplishments, Dr. Downing is known as an exemplary mentor who engages, inspires, and leads others, many of whom are making significant contributions on their own.

Dr. Downing began his career in 1981, after graduating from the University of Michigan with his undergraduate and medical degrees. He did his residency in 1983 at Barnes Hospital and The Jewish Hospital of St. Louis at Washington University. He later went on to complete his fellowship in 1984 at the University of Florida, before joining the faculty of the University of Alabama in Birmingham. Following his career at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, Dr. Downing moved to Memphis to join the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at St. Jude, where he worked his way up, starting as Assistant Member in 1986, to Chairman in 1997, to Deputy Director in 2011, and now as President and Chief Executive Officer of St. Jude, a role he has held since 2014.

Dr. Downing has served on multiple editorial boards for journals such as Cancer Discovery, Cancer Cell, and Oncogene. He has also published his work in numerous journals, including Blood, Cell, Nature Genetics, The New England Journal of Medicine, and the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

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

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He has been awarded the American Society for Clinical Pathology Philip Levine Award for Outstanding Research, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Kenneth B. McCredie Memorial Lecturer, and the Association for Molecular Pathology Award for Excellence. He was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, now known as the National Academy of Medicine, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Downing was recognized by TIME in 2013 as a finalist for the 100 most influential people in the world.

“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,” said ASH President Kenneth C. Anderson, MD, of the Lebow Institute for Myeloma Therapeutics and Jerome Lipper Myeloma Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. “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.” ■