Pan-Chyr Yang, MD, PhD, Chair Professor at the National Taiwan University Hospital and Academician of Academia Sinica, Taiwan, will be recognized by the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC) with the Joseph W. Cullen Prevention/Early Detection Award at the fully virtual IASLC 2020 World Conference on Lung Cancer (WCLC). This award recognizes an IASLC scientist for their lifetime achievement in the prevention of thoracic malignancies.
“The credit for this award should be attributed to all the team members working on lung cancer in Taiwan,” Dr. Yang said. “We not only feel very honored, but feel even more responsibility to speed up our work and resolve the unmet issue of lung cancer prevention.”
Dr. Yang is the former President of National Taiwan University and has been a professor in the department of internal medicine at the College of Medicine for 27 years. He has also served as the Director of the Advisory Office for the Ministry of Education for the Republic of China (Taiwan) and as Dean for the College of Medicine at National Taiwan University.
His current research focuses on lung cancer genomics, molecular mechanisms of cancer metastasis, and translational research related to precision therapy of lung cancer. His passion and interest in lung cancer prevention began early in his career.
“When I received my resident training in the Department of Internal Medicine, National Taiwan University Hospital in early 1980s, I saw many patients with lung cancer in the ward of internal medicine, and most of them did not have smoking history, especially the women,” Dr. Yang recalled. “It was very strange to me that they were quite different from all the textbooks and literature.”
This observation caused Dr. Yang to wonder if there were underlying unique etiologies and different pathogenic mechanisms for lung cancer in the never-smoker, and he committed himself to work on this puzzle.
His commitment to prevention and early detection is summarized in an ancient Chinese saying quoted by Dr. Yang, ”The supreme healer cures the illness that is still obscure. The good healer cures the illness that is about to break out. Fully manifested illness the least able tries to cure.” He explained that “[C]urrent precision medicine focused on advanced cancer patients can hardly cure the disease, despite the tremendous cost and suffering of the patients. Early detection before the disease is curable and prevention are the best strategies to improve the treatment outcome or eliminate the disease.”
Dr. Yang committed himself in leading the translational research of precision cancer medicine and implementing the lung cancer screening program in never-smokers, which has significantly improved the survival of patients with lung cancer in Taiwan. His research group, has used a proteogenomics approach to identify the environmental carcinogen and endogenous genetic signatures as well as the pathogenic mechanisms of never smoker lung cancer in East Asia.
“These discoveries may be useful to develop an effective preventive strategy for this dreadful disease,” Dr. Yang said.
Grateful for the Past, Looking to the Future
He credits some of his success to two of his mentors. Professor Kwen-Tay Luh, was the Professor in the Department Internal Medicine and Laboratory Medicine in National Taiwan University Hospital.
“He was my mentor and taught me not only the knowledge and skill of pulmonary medicine but also how to behave myself as a good physician,” Dr. Yang said.
Professor Cheng-Wen Wu, the former Director of Institute of Biomedical Science, Academia Sinica and President of National Health Research Institute best known for pioneering work on the four-step mechanism of gene transcription, was Dr. Yang’s doctoral thesis advisor.
“Under his training, I opened my eyes and became fascinated with how research works in basic and translational cancer medicine,” Dr. Yang said.
Looking to the future of the field, Dr. Yang said he hopes that in the near future, they are able to establish a screening program, using risk score predictors — including genetic and environmental factors — to help identify high-risk patients who can benefit from low-dose computed tomography screening of lung cancer in the never-smoker.
“Eventually, we can identify real etiology and develop an effective strategy to prevent this disease from occurring,” Dr. Yang said.
And as for those young professionals just starting out in the field of lung cancer research, Dr. Yang said, “Think big! Believe in yourself and try your best to make it happen!”
Dr. Yang is presenting results of the TALENT study, which describes a national lung cancer screening program in Taiwan, during the Presidential Symposium on Day 3.