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Mentorship As the Ultimate Investment in the Future

November 2, 2020

Drs. Judith Gasson and Wendy Stock Are Recognized With the 2020 ASH Mentor Award

Judith Gasson, PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and Wendy Stock, MD, of the University of Chicago are being awarded the 2020 ASH Mentor Award for their work as outstanding mentors who have had a significant, positive impact on their mentees’ careers and, by extension, advanced research and patient care in hematology.

Dr. Gasson is professor emerita and senior advisor to the David Geffen School of Medicine for Research and Innovation at UCLA. “Mentorship to me is the ultimate investment in the future,” She said. “I believe in the power of science to teach and to heal. It is an extraordinary honor for me to be recognized in this way. I am most grateful.” Dr. Wendy Stock is the Anjuly Seth Nayak Professor in Leukemia at the University of Chicago School of Medicine and vice chair of the Leukemia and Leukemia Correlative Sciences Committees in the Alliance, a clinical trials cooperative group sponsored by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) of the National Institutes of Health. She echoed the sentiment of her co-recipient, stating, “I am so very honored… To receive an award for mentorship from previous trainees and colleagues, all of whom are members of this incredible organization, ASH, is the most meaningful award of my career.”

Dr. Gasson recognizes her own mentors’ influence on her success as a researcher and on her ability to inspire so many mentees throughout her career. Her graduate school mentors at the University of Colorado, , and her postdoctoral mentor at the Salk Institute, Dr. Suzanne Bourgeois, taught her to formulate hypotheses, develop biological assays, analyze data properly, and interpret results, working with peptide and then steroid hormones. It was Dr. David Golde, Chief of the Division of Hematology Oncology at UCLA, who had the greatest influence in her career as he introduced Dr. Gasson to ASH and subsequently to the many colleagues and friends with whom she has worked over the years. Dr. Golde and Dr. Gasson worked together on novel hormone-like substances that could regulate the growth of bone marrow progenitor cells and the function of mature granulocytes. Dr. Gasson recounted, “Suddenly one year, three extraordinary hem-onc fellows joined my group, and the most exciting decade of research in my life began.” She was referring to meeting Drs. Belinda Avalos, John DiPersio, and Stephen Nimer, all later joined by Dr. Kathleen Sakamoto. She became Director of UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center and President of the Jonsson Cancer Center Foundation in 1995, making her the first woman to attend the annual Cancer Center Directors meeting sponsored by NCI. In this stage of her career, it was Dr. Joe Simone who advised her for almost 20 years. “…I owe an enormous debt of gratitude [to Dr. Simone]. If you’ve never read Simone’s Maxims: Understanding Today's Academic Medical Centers, I urge you to look it up,” she said. Before long, Dr. Gasson had more than 300 cancer center members to mentor, and today, their many accomplishments are a point of pride. “It has been a great pleasure to witness their amazing career trajectories, some of whom are now Department Chairs,” she added. She also highlighted ASH’s role in her career and praised the organization’s emphasis on diversity and inclusion, while fondly recalling her participation in many ASH annual meetings along with her mentees.

Dr. Stock underscores the simple, fundamental value of mentorship as a part of the knowledge continuum. “I think that being a mentor is the most natural part of medical training,” she said. “We depend so much on the wisdom and skill of the generations who came before us, and it feels so good to be part of this natural passage of experience and knowledge.” She finds watching people develop their own clinical and research passion and expertise truly gratifying. Dr. Stock, whose work focuses on acute leukemias, especially the biology and treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), developed an interest in hematology early in her career when studying cell and developmental biology in graduate school. “The early work in clonal hematopoiesis and cytogenetic changes in leukemias that was being described by [Drs.] Fialkow, Rowley, and others was fascinating to me; leukemia seemed to be the perfect model system for trying to understand it. And look at what has happened over the last 30 years.” said Dr. Stock. She explained that she was later drawn to “the tremendous grace, courage, and gratitude” of the patients whom she met with blood malignancies, and with the proper teaching and mentorship, she was certain she wanted to dedicate her fellowship to hematologic malignancies.

Dr. Stock feels lucky to have had such excellent mentors herself. She voiced appreciation for Dr. Richard Larson at the University of Chicago. “His clinical and academic rigor, his passion for understanding these terrible diseases so that we can devise better therapies, and his meticulous clinical care are lessons that have shaped my clinical expertise,” she said. Dr. Carol Westbrook, her laboratory mentor during fellowship, helped her develop her own path in the field. Two other women, Drs. Janet Rowley and Clara Bloomfield, were also important mentors to Dr. Stock. “How lucky I have been to work with and learn from these women who truly shaped the field of leukemia biology!” she exclaimed. She also mentioned Drs. Phil McGlave, Charlie Schiffer, and James Vardiman as great mentors, teachers, and supporters. Finally, Dr. Stock credits her colleagues in the leukemia program at the University of Chicago and across the world for helping her in her mission to better serve her patients, and who she believes mentor her as much as she tries to mentor them.

Dr. Stock advises those considering entering the field of hematology to find and pursue the things that excite them the most, and that they can then combine with a clinical purpose while also surrounding themselves with supportive people who constantly challenge them. “Academic careers develop slowly with many bends and twists. Be flexible and undaunted,” she added. In her own career, while she acknowledges that there have been significant improvements in outcomes of young adults with ALL when pediatric regimens are applied, she recognizes that challenges remain, encompassing disease biology, pharmacogenetics, and psychosocial access, as well as socioeconomic issues, that need to be addressed to further improve outcomes. However, further driving her strong belief in teamwork, she urges trainees to join national and international organizations such as ASH, which she sees as “an incredible opportunity to expand their horizons and develop broader networks and friendships that will enrich both your life and career!”

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