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Luis A. Diaz, MD, to Receive the 2020 AACR-Waun Ki Hong Award

PHILADELPHIA – The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) is recognizing Luis A. Diaz, MD, with the 2020 AACR-Waun Ki Hong Award for Outstanding Achievement in Translational and Clinical Cancer Research.

Diaz is head of the Division of Solid Tumor Oncology, Grayer Family Chair, and director of the Precision Intervention and Prevention Program at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Diaz also serves as an attending physician at Memorial Hospital for Cancer and Allied Diseases in New York. Diaz is being recognized for pioneering novel applications of cancer genomics and circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) for early cancer detection as well as prognosis and recurrence prediction, and for his groundbreaking work involving immune checkpoint blockade in DNA mismatch repair-deficient (MMR-deficient) tumors.

“Dr. Diaz is an outstanding physician-scientist who richly deserves this award. He is a preeminent expert in applying cancer genetics to identify new ways to detect, diagnose, and treat the devastating collection of diseases we call cancer,” said Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc), chief executive officer of the AACR. “We are proud to honor the memory of our dear colleague, friend, and mentor, AACR Past President  Waun Ki Hong, MD, by recognizing the accomplishments of Dr. Diaz with this prestigious award.”

In 2017, the AACR instituted the AACR-Waun Ki Hong Award for Outstanding Achievement in Translational and Clinical Cancer Research to recognize a worthy cancer researcher who has conducted highly meritorious translational and clinical cancer research anywhere in the world, and who has not yet reached 51 years of age at the time of award presentation. The award was established in recognition of the extraordinary contributions that Waun Ki Hong, MD, FAACR, made to advances in cancer research, cancer care, and cancer prevention during his long-standing and brilliant career as a physician-scientist.

As a leading authority in solid tumor oncology, Diaz has focused his career on developing novel genomic approaches to the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. In landmark studies, he demonstrated the potential clinical utility of analyzing ctDNA to detect tumor mutations in the blood, showing that ctDNA could be used to not only track the emergence of mutations conferring therapeutic resistance in patients receiving targeted therapy, but also predict tumor recurrence after surgery. He has also applied his expertise to expand the use of immunotherapeutics such as immune checkpoint inhibitors in the treatment of patients with cancer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of pembrolizumab for advanced MMR-deficient cancers arising in any location in the body was a direct result of Diaz’s research, which showed curative responses in the majority of metastatic patients with MMR-deficient cancers. Diaz is currently working to harness his cancer genetics knowledge to develop a “molecular Pap test” for the early detection of ovarian and endometrial cancers.

Diaz, an AACR member since 2011, is an editor-in-chief of the AACR journal, Cancer Discovery. He has served on a number of AACR committees including the AACR Annual Meeting Education Committee, the AACR Colon Cancer Research Fellowships Scientific Review Committee, the AACR-Janssen Fellowship in Cancer Interception Research Scientific Review Committee, and the AACR Team Science Award Committee. He also actively serves as a member of the AACR Special Conferences Committee, the Cancer Immunology Working Group, Molecular Epidemiology Working Group, and Minorities in Cancer Research membership group. Diaz has been honored with the AACR Team Science Award three times: He was the leader of The International Liquid Biopsies Team (2017); a member of the Duke University/Johns Hopkins/National Cancer Institute Malignant Brain Tumor Team (2014); and a member of the Johns Hopkins Pancreatic Cancer Sequencing Team (2013). In addition, Diaz leads the Stand Up To Cancer Colorectal Cancer Dream Team: Targeting Genomic, Metabolic, and Immunological Vulnerabilities of Colorectal Cancer. The AACR is the Scientific Partner of Stand Up To Cancer.

Diaz has received numerous other awards and accolades throughout his career, including the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award (2016), the Nathan Ackerman Memorial Lecture (2016), the 18th Andrew H. Weinberg Memorial Lecture (2014), the Osler Medical Housestaff Achievement Award (2001), Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society membership (2001), the Dean’s Award for Research Excellence, University of Michigan Medical School (1998), the American Federation for Clinical Research Trainee Investigator Award (1996), the American College of Rheumatology Medical Student Award (1995), and The Abraham H. Grant Scholarship Award (1994).

Diaz received his undergraduate degree in microbiology and his medical degree with distinction in research from the University of Michigan. He completed his residency at Osler Medical Service at The John Hopkins School of Medicine and simultaneously conducted both his clinical fellowship and research fellowship under Bert Vogelstein, MD, at The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.