JABSOM alum is named recipient of the National Cancer Institute R50 Clinical Science Award

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Dr. Stephen Chun (JABSOM MD 2010) was recently named recipient of the National Cancer Institute R50 Clinician Scientist Award by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Chun is an Associate Professor and Director of Radiation Oncology Clinical Research for the MD Anderson Houston Area Locations. Below, we caught up with him to learn more about his research and what inspires him in this line of work.

Congratulations on your recent award! Can you tell us more about it?
This NIH R50 award provides $433,510 in extramural funding over 5-years. As Principal Investigator, this grant will support my efforts to expand the radiation oncology trial program in the MD Anderson integrated academic satellite network and my leadership roles with the NCI-sponsored cooperative trial groups.

As Director of Radiation Oncology Clinical Research for the MD Anderson Houston Area locations, I established the radiation clinical trial program in the MD Anderson satellite network and led an unprecedented increase (1% in 2016 to 14% in 2022) in the proportion of patients enrolled on radiation clinical trials. With the NCI-sponsored cooperative groups, I serve as national Principal Investigator (PI) of a high-profile NRG Oncology analysis of RTOG 0617, study champion of NRG/Alliance A082002, and MD Anderson institutional PI of NRG-LU005.

What is most significant about this work?
This grant is unique in that it provides support for clinical trial expansion in the community setting. Lessons learned from this project will have implications for trial implementation for community cancer programs across the country such as the University of Hawaii Cancer Center and the health systems in Hawaiʻi.

What are the next steps?
This project aims to identify novel strategies to leverage artificial intelligence, address health disparities and streamline clinical research operations in the community setting. Strategies identified in this project could have national and international implications for clinical trial implementation in the community setting such as in Hawaiʻi.

What drives you to pursue a career in oncology?
I decided to pursue a career in oncology when my violin teacher Hiroko Primrose died of ovarian cancer in 1998. The prospect of improving outcomes for individual patients as well as for the population at large have driven me to pursue a career in academic oncology. A huge role model and influence on my career has been my grandfather Dr. Thomas Lau, M.D. (alive and well at age 95), who established the cancer and hospice programs in Hawaiʻi and was on the original JABSOM Internal Medicine faculty. My grandfather always emphasizes how much progress has been made since he started in oncology 60 years ago when nearly all cancer was uniformly fatal. I’ve been lucky to have mentors like my grandfather and JABSOM Dean Ed Cadman, who encouraged me to push the envelope and imagine a future without cancer as we know it.

Match Day is coming up– What advice would you give to our soon-to-be MDs?
As hard as residency can be, I want to encourage them to remain idealistic and passionate about things they care about. Seek out mentorship for these things and remember that it’s never too early to be a mentor to someone else. It brings me great joy seeing my mentees such as Dr. Mazie Tsang (JABSOM 2014 alum) on the hematology & oncology faculty at Mayo Clinic Phoenix and Dr. Mark Mayeda (JABSOM 2016 alum) flourishing as a Radiation Oncologist at the Queen’s Medical Center.

What are your favorite JABSOM memories?
Some of my fondest memories at JABSOM were with Dean Ed Cadman who was my PBL tutor during my first year at JABSOM. Even as he struggled to communicate, he had a way of making you feel like you were the most important person in the world. I’ll never forget the many conversations I had with him and how he went out of his way to advocate for me numerous times.

*Do you have a career highlight or academic achievement to share? Send in a short update and photos to Christie Leidholm, Alumni Engagement, at christie.leidholm@uhfoundation.org