Originally published in the 2012 ASCO Daily News

For the past decade, ASCO has honored clinicians and researchers who have made significant contributions that have advanced the field of pediatric oncology. This year ASCO will bestow the Pediatric Oncology Award to Ching-Hon Pui, MD, chair of the Department of Oncology and the Fahad Nassar Al-Rashid Chair of Leukemia Research at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Dr. Pui is also the medical director of the St. Jude International Outreach China Program and an American Cancer Society Professor.

Refining Treatment

For nearly 20 years, Dr. Pui has been a leader in the biologic studies of childhood leukemia and of developing clinical protocols based on those findings.

Dr. Pui’s Pediatric Oncology Award lecture will focus on how it may be possible to achieve total cure of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) with personalized therapy. He will discuss how the treatment of ALL has evolved through risk-directed therapies and through the successful implementation of translational research.

According to Dr. Pui, optimal chemotherapy based on more precise risk assessment, better supportive care, and a continued dissection of the driver molecular lesions of ALL—coupled with an understanding of drug resistance at the patient level—have significantly contributed to improving cure rates in children with ALL.

In addition, Dr. Pui will provide results of whole genomic analyses that have identified new mutations associated with ALL, which may be effectively targeted through the use of specific tyrosine kinase inhibitors.

(Dr. Pui will present his lecture during the Pediatric Oncology Award and Lecture Special Session, which will take place Friday from 2:45 PM-4:00 PM in S504.)

When personalized therapy and translational research were in their infancy, Dr. Pui and his colleagues at St. Jude were already implementing these concepts by moving promising laboratory findings into the clinic as rapidly as possible with the unqualified support of its fundraising organization, ALSAC/St. Jude. Dr. Pui told ASCO Daily News, “To ensure that each patient receives an optimal plan of chemotherapy, we select drugs and dosages according to measurements that tell us how a patient will likely respond to a particular drug regimen.”

Dr. Pui and his colleagues first incorporated pharmacokinetic measurements into treatment protocols in the early 1980s. As pharmacodynamic and pharmacogenetic advances were achieved, their measurements were incorporated into treatment protocols.

In the past decade the molecular genetics of the leukemia cell, as well as the determination of minimal residual disease, provided further refinement to treating childhood leukemias. At St. Jude these parameters are measured in every patient, resulting in personalized therapy. Consequently, 90% of patients with ALL at St. Jude are being cured, largely due to the personalized therapy approach, which omits cranial irradiation, thus sparing patients from the devastating side effects of that treatment.

International Outreach, National Accolades

Besides providing outstanding clinical care to children at St. Jude, Dr. Pui and his colleagues are also dedicated to helping developing countries improve their capabilities in pediatric oncology and patient care. A foundation established in 2004 provides treatment to underprivileged children with leukemia in China. For the past 6 years, with support from the Viva Foundation in Singapore, the International Outreach Program has organized annual meetings in Singapore, which have gathered expert CML treatment oncologists to teach between 200 and 300 clinicians from all over Asia.

“This comprehensive program allows members of the St. Jude medical staff to visit developing countries to teach, to assist in designing treatment protocols, and to provide the advice and resources needed to improve patient care. We also bring physicians and nurses from these countries to St. Jude for advanced training in pediatric oncology,” Dr. Pui told ASCO Daily News.

Dr. Pui received his medical degree from the National Taiwan University (1976). He came to the United States in 1976 as a resident first at St. Louis City Hospital and then at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (1977-1981). Although childhood leukemia has been Dr. Pui’s life-long passion, it was the years spent as a resident at St. Jude with skilled cancer specialists and young patients with cancer that were critical in narrowing his focus and forging his career path in pediatric oncology. Dr. Pui remained at St. Jude as an assistant member (1982-1986) and then as an associate member (1986-1989), and he attained full member in 1990 in the Department of Hematology-Oncology. For his significant contributions in the field of pediatric oncology, Dr. Pui has been honored with many prestigious awards, and has delivered more than 500 keynote presentations at national and international meetings.