Drs. Nancy E. Davidson and Denise Galloway, two of the nation’s leading lights in women’s health research and scientists at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, have been elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, joining a class of luminaries this year that includes former First Lady Michelle Obama.
One of the nation’s oldest learned societies, the Academy was founded in 1780 by John Adams and John Hancock, among others, to honor accomplished individuals and “to engage them in advancing the public good.” Now in its 239th year, its honorees include Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Robert Frost, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Fred Hutch is home to world-class scientists who are also women, and the Hutch is committed to being a place where researchers of all genders can thrive.
Breaking the glass ceiling in science leadership benefits us all – Gary Gilliland, LinkedIn, Mar. 8, 2019
Fred Hutch first U.S. cancer center to pledge commitment to CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion – Hutch News, Aug. 31, 2017
Women belong in science: Striving for gender parity at Fred Hutch – Gary Gilliland, Dec. 17, 2015
Boosting women in STEM, ‘one girl at a time’ – Hutch News, Apr. 2, 2015
“We are so honored that Nancy and Denise have been elected,” said Dr. Gary Gilliland, Fred Hutch president and director, who received the same honor from the Academy in 2016. “This is a tribute to the extraordinary quality of our faculty and underscores the tremendous contributions of our scientists. It is wonderful to recognize the importance of their lifelong scientific accomplishments.”
The announcement brings to 11 the number of Hutch researchers who have been elected to the Academy, including Dr. Sue Biggins, recently named director of the Hutch’s Basic Sciences Division, who received the honor last year.
A world-renowned expert in breast cancer, Davidson is senior vice president and director of the Clinical Research Division at Fred Hutch and president and director of its clinical care partner, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. She holds the Endowed Chair for Breast Cancer Research at Fred Hutch, and heads the Division of Medical Oncology at the University of Washington School of Medicine.
“I am thrilled to be elected to an organization that recognizes and celebrates the diversity of thought, disciplines and people who work to advance the common good,” said Davidson. “I am especially pleased to enter the Academy with my good friend, Denise Galloway, and follow in the footsteps of Sue Biggins last year.”
Davidson’s research is focused on epigenetics, how alterations in molecules close by or attached to genes can affect how they perform and can influence the development of cancer. Because these changes may be reversible, these molecules are possible targets for new breast cancer therapies. She has led national trials that have changed how clinicians select chemotherapy drugs, treat people with premenopausal breast cancer and address early stage malignancies.
“This is a true honor, but also a responsibility that I embrace, to have the opportunity to contribute to the Academy’s goals to develop and promote useful knowledge,” said Davidson.
She has headed the nation’s leading cancer research organizations and is also known for advocating on behalf of cancer patients. “When she was president of ASCO (American Society of Clinical Oncology) she was instrumental in putting together a task force to address the cost of oncology care,” said Fred Hutch molecular biologist Dr. Mark Groudine, also an Academy member and holder of the Mark Groudine Chair for Outstanding Achievements in Science and Service. “And when she was president of AACR (American Association for Cancer Research), she was involved in the role of prevention.”
Groudine also had high praise for Galloway, calling her “a relentless advocate” for state and federal efforts to increase vaccination rates to block human papillomavirus, or HPV, which causes cervical, oral and neck cancers.
“Nancy and Denise are not only terrific scientists, they are out there in the trenches working to improve the health of the public,” said Groudine. “That’s the kind of person who gets elected.”
Galloway’s research helped to establish HPV’s link to cervical cancer, a leading cause of cancer death for women worldwide, and her studies of virus-like particles laid the groundwork for the HPV vaccine, which has dramatically reduced cervical cancer rates in countries that have embraced its use.
“It is terrific to be recognized by your peers,” said Galloway, who holds the Paul Stephanus Memorial Endowed Chair and is director of the Hutch’s Pathogen-Associated Malignancies Integrated Research Center, an interdisciplinary team that is focused on cancers caused by viruses or bacteria. “I attribute any success I have to working at the Hutch. I’ve been here my whole career, and it is a wonderful environment for science.”
Galloway continues her research on the HPV vaccine, including a study in Kenya to see if a single dose of the vaccine is protective. “If we can show that it is feasible there, it will be a game-changer,” she said. “We need to get this cervical cancer vaccine to where the problem is greatest.” Each year, 53O,000 women worldwide are diagnosed with the disease, and 275,000 die from it. Most cases occur in resource-poor countries.
The Hutch scientist has been an advocate for more effective measures to get young people to be vaccinated, such as those adopted by Australia, where HPV infection rates have fallen by 77 percent, and cervical cancer is on track there to be eliminated within two decades. In the United States, only 49 percent girls have received a single dose of the vaccine.
Davidson and Galloway are both planning to attend an induction ceremony in Cambridge, Massachusetts, this fall. It is an opportunity to rub elbows with accomplished people from different fields, ranging from politics to the performing arts, including authors, poets, and business leaders. The common denominator is that their pursuit of excellence is matched with a sense of public purpose.
Both said they are hoping meet Obama, one of the more than 200 newly elected members of the Academy’s Class of 2019.
In addition to Obama, the list of new members includes poet and president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Elizabeth Alexander; journalist James Fallows (The Atlantic); actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith.
Gilliland recalls that he thoroughly enjoyed his visit to Cambridge. “I fondly recall my own induction and talking with the actor, John Lithgow, on the shuttle bus from the Charles River Hotel to the ceremony at Harvard. It was humbling and illuminating. There are worlds beyond science out there, and we all benefit from membership in this community.”
Sabin Russell is a former staff writer at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center. For two decades he covered medical science, global health and health care economics for the San Francisco Chronicle, and he wrote extensively about infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS. He was a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT and a freelance writer for the New York Times and Health Affairs.