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ASH Honors Mid-career Superstar

December 12, 2023

DR. OMAR ABDEL-WAHAB RECEIVES THE 2023 WILLIAM DAMESHEK PRIZE

Named for the late Dr. William Dameshek, a previous ASH president and the first editor of Blood, this award recognizes early- and mid-career hematologists who have made outstanding contributions to the field by no more than 50 years of age (at the time of nomination). 

Omar Abdel-Wahab, MD, is being honored for his trailblazing research on the genetic mutations that drive blood cancers. His research focuses on the recurrent RNA splicing mutations that lead to the development of myelodysplastic syndromes and leukemia. His discoveries have paved the way for the development of multiple drugs targeting RNA splicing activity, which are in the early phases of clinical development. Additionally, his research has played a pivotal role in securing U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of the first targeted therapies for patients with systemic histiocytic neoplasms.  

Dr. Abdel-Wahab, who serves as chair of the Molecular Pharmacology Program at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK), has published seminal papers on how mutations in RNA splicing factors alter the transcriptional homeostasis of hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells to promote oncogenic transformation. His work on the therapeutic vulnerabilities of cells harboring RNA splicing factor mutations has prompted clinical trials of several RNA splicing inhibitors for hematologic malignancies and cancers. In addition to having published 185 original, peer-reviewed papers in prestigious journals such as Nature, Cell, Blood, and the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Abdel-Wahab is credited with 78 prominent books, chapters, and reviews and serves as the PI for four NIH R01 project grants.  

Among his many accolades, Dr. Abdel-Wahab has received the American Society of Clinical Investigation (ASCI) Seldin-Smith Award for Pioneering Research (2017), the Pershing Square Sohn Prize for Young Investigators in Cancer Research (2016), and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Clinical Scholar Award (2015). He has also received numerous honors from ASH, including the Joanne Levy Memorial Award for Outstanding Achievement (2015), an ASH Scholar Junior Faculty Award (2013), and an ASH Research Training Award for Fellows (2009).  

Despite having achieved such prominence early in his career, he described himself as a “late bloomer” to scientific pursuits, given that he had originally planned to become a full-time clinician and did not begin serious research pursuits until his late 20s. Even in his earlier years, he had strongly considered a career in visual art, noting that he is happiest when he’s able to be creative. With this unique combination of creative thinking, focus, and persistence, Dr. Abdel-Wahab said he hopes to be among those to “crack the code” in developing effective immunotherapeutic strategies (other than allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation) for myeloid blood cancers, which he cites as one of the biggest challenges within his area of expertise. 

In line with the foundational contributions of Dr. Dameshek himself, Dr. Abdel-Wahab has ranked among the top five Blood reviewers worldwide for multiple years. A spectacularly talented scientist, collaborator, mentor, and role model, he shared the following guidance for aspiring hematologists and those just beginning a career in research: “The importance of mentorship at each stage of a career cannot be overstated. Earlier in my research career (before completing residency), I witnessed firsthand what my research trajectory could be without a dedicated and devoted mentor, and this experience led to me carefully identify research mentors later in my career. These challenges and the lessons learned were instrumental to my current research success.”   

Dr. Abdel-Wahab offered his thanks to former Dameshek Prize recipient Ross Levine, MD, whose early-career mentorship and support were essential in building strong foundations in lab-based research; Charles Sawyers, MD, who has served as a lead mentor to many physician-scientists at MSK; and former ASH President Martin Tallman, MD, who served as his first supervisor as a hematology attending and has supported his research (often through collaboration) for more than 10 years. 

Join ASH in congratulating Dr. Abdel-Wahab at 8:45 a.m. Tuesday in Hall A of the San Diego Convention Cener. 

 

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