American Association for Cancer Research Announces Recipients of the 2020 AACR June L. Biedler Prize for Cancer Journalism
Editor’s Note: Congratulations to our science editor, Liz Highleyman, for being named a finalist in the magazine category for her Cancer Health piece "The Microbiome Frontier."
The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2020 AACR June L. Biedler Prize for Cancer Journalism in the following categories:
- Auditory Journalism: Michelle Fay Cortez, “How Scared Should We Be of Our DNA?” Bloomberg News, New York
- Large Newspaper: Alejandra Reyes-Velarde, “Would Cancer Get Her Next?” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles
- Magazine: Kelly M. Servick, “War of Nerves,” Science, Washington, D.C.
- Online/Multimedia: Eric S. Boodman, “The Medicine Hunters, Parts I and II,” STAT News, Boston
- Small Newspaper: Jennifer Berry Hawes, “Last Rights,” The Post and Courier, Charleston, South Carolina
- Television: Cynthia E. Newsome and Matt Reeb, “Newsome’s House Calls,” KSHB-41/NBC News, Kansas City, Missouri
The AACR Biedler Prize was established in 2015 to raise awareness of the critical role that the media play in educating the public about cancer and cancer research, and to recognize outstanding journalistic coverage that enhances the general public’s understanding of cancer science, and medicine. The AACR commends these journalists for their compelling and informative stories about cancer research, discoveries, and policy.
The AACR Biedler Prize is named in honor of June L. Biedler, PhD, and is supported by a generous bequest that she made to the AACR. Biedler was a former member of the AACR Board of Directors and a recipient of the 1992 AACR G.H.A. Clowes Memorial Award, which honors outstanding achievements in laboratory cancer research.
“As a cancer research pioneer and inspirational scientist, Dr. Biedler placed great emphasis on the importance of clear and concise communications that contribute to accelerating the pace of progress against cancer,” said Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc), chief executive officer of the AACR. “These stellar journalists have provided a great service to the public by covering the impact that cancer, cancer research, survivorship, advocacy, and prevention have on our communities. Each story encapsulates Dr. Biedler’s commitment to and respect for science communications. The AACR is extremely proud to honor these journalists for their outstanding work.”
“Once again, I have been deeply impressed and inspired by the power of journalists to illuminate the subtleties of cancer science, the challenges of treatment, and the humanity of patients and caregivers around the world,” said Clifton Leaf, editor-in-chief of Fortune and chair of the judging panel. “This year’s winning entries blew me away.”
This year’s judging panel consisted of journalists, scientists, clinicians, physician-scientists, and patient advocates, including:
- Clifton Leaf, MFA, Editor-in-Chief, Fortune Magazine, New York (Panel Chair)
- David Boardman, MS, Dean, Klein College of Media and Communication, Temple University, Philadelphia
- Lecia Bushak, BFA, Managing Editor, Being Patient, New York
- Damon Dahlen, BA, Photo Editor, AOL HuffPost, New York(2017 Biedler recipient)
- Antonio T. Fojo, MD, PhD, Professor of Medicine, Columbia University Medical Center, New York
- Carey Goldberg, MA, Host, WBUR CommonHealth Blog, Boston (2018 Biedler recipient)
- Roy S. Herbst, MD, PhD, Ensign Professor of Medicine, Yale Cancer Center, New Haven, Connecticut
- Patrick Hwu, MD, Head, Division of Cancer Medicine, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston
- Stefanie Joho, BS, Freelance Public Speaker and Health Care Strategist, Philadelphia
- Esther Landhuis, PhD, Science Writer, Science News, Pleasanton, California (2018 Biedler recipient)
- Patricia M. LoRusso, DO, Associate Director of Innovative Medicine, Professor of Medicine, Yale Cancer Center, New Haven, Connecticut
- Donna M. Ludwinski, BS, Director of Research Programs, Solving Kids’ Cancer, New York
- Adam Piore, MS, Freelancer and Contributing Editor, Popular Science, New York, and Discover, Waukesha, Wisconsin (2019 Biedler recipient)
- Cynthia Ryan, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of English, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama
- Erin Schumaker, MA, Health and Science Reporter, ABC News, New York (2017 Biedler recipient)
- Maiken Scott, MA, Creative Director / Host of The Pulse, WHYY Radio/NPR, Philadelphia
- Mary Jackson Scroggins, MA, Co-Founder and President, In My Sister’s Care and Pinkie Hugs, LLC, Washington, D.C.
- David Wahlberg, BA, Health and Medicine Reporter, Wisconsin State Journal, Madison, Wisconsin (2017 Biedler recipient)
- Ashani Weeraratna, PhD, E.V. McCollum Chair and Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Cancer Biology, Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, Baltimore
- Col. James E. Williams Jr., MA, Chair-Elect, Intercultural Cancer Council, Alliance for Prostate Cancer Prevention; Principal, Jim Williams and Associates, Camp Hill, Pennsylvania
- Swagata Yadavar, MA, Assistant Editor, The Print, New Delhi, India (2018 Biedler recipient)
The AACR Biedler Prize administration is managed internally by AACR Executive Office staff. After the judges rank each submission, all finalists are discussed and voted on during an extensive, in-person selection meeting.
COMMENTARIES BY THE JUDGE DISCUSSANTS
Commentary by Cynthia Ryan, PhD, on “How Scared Should We Be of Our DNA?” by Michelle Fay Cortez
Cortez’s compelling story interweaves the experiences of Mike Dillon, who learns that he carries a CDH1 mutation, increasing his risk for an aggressive form of stomach cancer, with a conversation regarding risk and the unknown in DNA testing. Throughout the segment, Cortez powerfully blends the science of genetic testing, in this case, for a mutation linked to cancer, with communication of this science to individuals who undergo testing and are left with uncertainties as to how to act on test results—in Dillon’s case, whether to undergo gastrectomy as a preventive measure. The journalist’s keen storytelling skills and precise reporting lead listeners to important questions in the field of gene testing for cancer. Specifically, how much do researchers know about the implications of test results for patients? Cortez’s work highlights the need to communicate both our understandings and gaps in knowledge that can affect decision-making following genetic testing.
Commentary by Roy S. Herbst, MD, PhD, on “Would Cancer Get Her Next?” by Alejandra Reyes-Velarde
This article chronicles Alejandra Campoverdi’s journey to have an elective double mastectomy after learning of her significantly increased risk of developing breast cancer due to a BRCA2 mutation. Having overcome obstacles as the daughter of immigrants to become a health ambassador for Latinas, she demonstrates how to navigate the complicated health care system and provides resources to help others in the same position. This compelling story provides a clear explanation of the current science and how women with a family history of breast cancer can be affected by the disease, as well as steps they can take to understand and overcome their risk. This is a topic of great importance and a story of tremendous courage and initiative, a must-read for anyone with breast cancer or a family history of breast cancer.
Commentary by Ashani Weeraratna, PhD, on “War of Nerves,” by Kelly M. Servick
“War of Nerves” is about the fascinating new finding of the innervation of tumors. Tumors co-opt mechanisms that allow nerves to develop and grow within the tumor microenvironment, akin to the way blood vessels do. In this article, Servick describes the origins of the findings in a very personal and commanding way, beginning with the description of a young pathologist making an observation in a tumor specimen, and then following how that discovery grew into a rapidly burgeoning field. The engaging writing beautifully explains some very complex literature, and moreover is a bit of a “scoop” in that it describes a little-known field that has the potential for huge impact in cancer research. Finally, the graphics were superlative, beautifully designed, extremely clear, and simple, yet accurate.
Commentary by David Wahlberg on “The Medicine Hunters, Parts I and II,” by Eric S. Boodman
A captivating narrative, this two-part series chronicles a young woman’s personal and financial struggle with Gorlin syndrome, a rare condition that can cause perpetual skin cancers and other tumors. The well-researched series also recounts researchers’ discovery of hedgehog inhibitors, a class of drugs with potential to treat Gorlin and other cancers, after linking the consumption of cow cabbage by sheep in Idaho to the birth of one-eyed lambs. By presenting patients and scientists as “medicine hunters,” the piece asks a moral question key to biomedical research: Should patients who help companies develop a drug by participating in clinical trials be guaranteed access to the drug if it is approved?
Commentary by Patricia M. LoRusso, DO, on “Last Rights,” by Jennifer Berry Hawes
In her article “Last Rights,” Hawes follows a patient with terminal cancer and his wife through their journey from life to death. This patient would have chosen assisted suicide if it were legal in his state. Since it is not, he struggles to control the narrative of his death. Will he die with his adult children by his side? Can he cope with his daily loss of freedom and independence? Could he have been spared agonizing physical pain if he had been allowed to die on his own terms? This piece vividly examines why patients would want to choose the right to die, using photos and words to tell this patient’s story with compassion.
Commentary by Maiken Scott on “Newsome’s House Calls,” by Cynthia E. Newsome and Matt Reeb
The short segments communicate information about important cancer issues with clarity and a relatable voice. The reporter is a cancer survivor herself and discusses the issues with empathy and insight. The segments cover a lot of information that people who are dealing with cancer are looking for: the financial drain that comes with the illness and the pros and cons of genetic testing. Cynthia’s presence and coverage must be a great comfort and important resource for people with cancer diagnoses in her broadcast area. Her personality is akin to a trusted friend, which makes the information she communicates more accessible. Her positive spirit and attitude are also comforting to viewers.
In addition to this year’s prize recipients, listed below are all 2020 prize finalists:
- Susan Berger, “If I Had Known Cancer Was Linked to Implants, I Would Never Have Gotten Them,” The Washington Post, Washington, D.C.
- Jennifer M. Couzin-Frankel, “Beyond Survival,” Science, Washington, D.C.
- Liz Highleyman, “The Microbiome Frontier” Cancer Health, New York
- Roxanne Khamsi, “The Darwin Treatment,” WIRED, Boone, Iowa
- Sharon Begley, “Can Less Be More? A Heretical Approach to Chemotherapy Is Extending Cancer Patients’ Lives,” STAT News, Boston
- Linda C. Carroll, “Annual At-home Stool Test May Be as Effective as Colonoscopy, Study Finds,” NBCnews.com, New York
- Gaby Galvin, “Regaining Innocence in Rural America,” U.S. News & World Report, Washington, D.C.
- Matthew Herper, “The Entrepreneur Behind the Cancer Immunotherapy Revolution,” STAT News, Boston
- Dorothy M. Pomerantz, “23andMe Had Devastating News,” STAT News, Boston
- David Martin Davies, “The Source: 1 in 9 American Men Will Be Diagnosed with Prostate Cancer,” KSTX-FM, Texas Public Radio, San Antonio
- Diana N. Mwango, “Children Put Up a Fight Against Cancer” Business Daily, Nairobi, Kenya
- Paul Schott, “Loxo Oncology’s Pioneering Drug Cures Bridgeport Toddler’s Cancer,” Connecticut Post, Bridgeport, Connecticut
- Wyatt L. Stayner, “Vancouver Mother, Daughter Beat Breast Cancer – Together,” The Columbian, Vancouver, Washington
- Nimrod Taabu Mwagamoyo and Brian Mutai Cheruiyot, “Cancer Country,” Citizen TV, Nairobi, Kenya
- Leigh Ann Winick and Tara Narula Cangello, MD, “Breast Cancer and Cardio Oncology,” CBS This Morning, New York
For more information on the AACR June L. Biedler Prize for Cancer Journalism, go to www.aacr.org/biedlerprize.
This announcement was originally published on May 27, 2020, by the American Association for Cancer Research. It is republished with permission.