On September 10, Jane Carrie Weeks, MD, MSc, a prominent researcher at Dana-Farber Cancer Center, died of cancer in her Boston home. She was 61. At the time of her death, Dr. Weeks was Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Professor of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard School of Public Health, Director of the Mc-Gaw-Patterson Center for Population Sciences, and Chief of the Division of Population Sciences in the Department of Medical Oncology at Dana-Farber. While Dr. Weeks’ legacy in oncology is replete with achievements, it is her groundbreaking work in the field of outcomes research and health-care disparities that will perhaps have the longest lasting impact on cancer care.
Outcomes research is the applied investigation that provides evidence about which interventions are most effective in a given patient population. The results of outcomes research are often used to inform legislative bodies that make crucial decisions about health-care policy. Although outcomes research is a heady discipline of macro-analysis and statistics, it all boils down to delivering better and more equitable care for patients with cancer, taking into consideration their experiences and preferences.
Last June, when Dr. Weeks received a 2012-13 William Silen Lifetime Achievement in Mentoring Award from Harvard Medical School, her Dana-Farber colleague Deborah Schrag, MD, said, “Jane asks the critical questions about how we deliver clinical care — questions that have changed the way we think about and practice cancer medicine at its most profound level. In addition to her powerful intellect and analytic rigor, Jane is the consummate mentor. Her trainees now populate the field of health services research in oncology across the country.”
Advancing Comparative Effectiveness Research
In 1995, Dr. Weeks founded Dana-Farber’s Center for Outcomes and Policy Research, which fosters cross-disciplinary health services research in cancer. An early researcher in the causes of disparities in care, in 2001 Dr. Weeks had a leadership role in creating Dana-Farber’s Initiative to Eliminate Cancer Disparities (IECD), which provided a centralized and coordinated structure for addressing the complexities of cancer disparities—it was among the nation’s first wholly integrated, inter-institutional, multipronged approaches. Understanding the need for adding more value to the clinical care continuum, Dr. Weeks was also a pioneer in comparative effectiveness research. Her original work in this field enabled an understanding of the population-wide impact of cancer treatments and has helped guide decision-making at the clinical as well as policy level.
Among her myriad leadership roles, Dr. Weeks led the Cancer Care Outcomes Research and Surveillance Consortium (CanCORS), a 6-year NCI-funded study that examined the experiences of 10,000 patients across the nation through the course of their treatments. Well-known for her brilliance, Dr. Weeks was widely sought after to help stimulate creative thinking and create collaborations built on forward-looking ideas. Speaking about her death, Dana-Farber President Edward Benz, Jr., MD, called Dr. Weeks, “One of the true intellectual pillars of the Harvard medical community.”
In a chapter of Holland-Frei Cancer Medicine, 6th Edition (B C Decker, Inc., July 2003), Dr. Weeks wrote, “In the United States, although not necessarily in all the developed countries, it is generally believed that the physician should function as the patient’s advocate in these discussions and should offer any treatment likely to be of net benefit, regardless of the cost to society…but all practitioners must have some understanding of issues of cost and cost-effectiveness if they are to have any voice in the debate over allocation of health care dollars and other resources.” She made that important observation a decade ago, well ahead of today’s national discussions of escalating health care costs.
Nurturing the Next Generation of Scientists
Dr. Weeks’ innovative approach at mentoring has improved the field of oncology. “I worked with Jane for many years; she was instrumental in my career,” said Stephanie J. Lee, MD, MPH, a bone-marrow transplant researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Researcher Center, and a former mentee of Dr. Weeks. “My work in allogeneic transplantation is very different from Jane’s work but she was able to easily bridge that gap and mentor me, applying all of her knowledge and insight into my work. Many people feel like you must be in the same field to be a good mentor, but a great mentor like Jane doesn’t have to have content expertise in your particular subspecialty. Jane mentored many people in various specialties. She was very good at understanding people’s needs, and her insights were always spectacularly correct.”
Dr. Weeks is survived by her husband, Barrett Rollins, MD, PhD, Linde Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Chief Scientific Officer and Faculty Dean for Academic Affairs at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. ■