In a recognition of the research and leadership achievements of W. Kimryn Rathmell, MD, PhD, the Kidney Cancer Association recognizes with its most prestigious honor—the Eugene P. Schonfeld Award. This award recognizes highly respected health care professionals who have made significant contributions in the treatment of renal cell carcinoma. Dr. Rathmell also finds a spot on TrialSite News Investigator Profile.
Rathmell is the Cornelius Abernathy Craig Professor of Medicine and director of the Division of Hematology and Oncology. Notably, she is the first woman to receive the Eugene P. Schonfeld Award.
A Pioneer in Kidney Cancer Research
Dr. Rathmell, currently serving as president of The American Society for Clinical Investigation while chairing the Kidney Cancer Research Program for the Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs has noted that when she began out of medical school there “really were very few kidney cancer clinical investigators.” And, with a fascination in kidney cancer biology and intention on becoming a physician scientists, she jumped right into a role that didn’t have much to work with at that point in time—essentially a disease that was “completely orphaned.”
Rathmell thinks of her career and how we have gradually but amazingly gone from having “a hospice discussion” on the patients first meeting to being able to communicate to significant numbers of patients that they are cured.
Rathmell was an investigator with the Cancer Genome Atlas, a landmark genomics program that molecularly characterized cancers, including specialty about the diversity of kidney cancers. She has been involved with a number of new life-saving treatments while tirelessly advocating for kidney cancer research. For example, in 2016 she advocated for the needs of patients with a rare form of kidney cancer called renal medullary carcinoma (RMC) that afflicts children, adolescents and young adults—particularly African Americans. A meeting she convened on the topic led to the formation of the RMC Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy organization.
Getting Down to Business
As a genitourinary oncologist she leads GU oncology disease group clinical and research program zeroing in on renal cell carcinoma research. Their laboratory is used to focus on cancers caused by deregulation of the normal hypoxia response pathway. They utilize clear cell renal cell carcinoma as a model system because virtually all of these tumors display dysregulation of this pathway. This form of cancer afflicts over 60,000 new patients every year in the United States alone.
New discoveries driven by this understanding of the hypoxia response pathway has led to the development of multiple new lines of treatment for this cancer. Rathmell seeks to capitalize on these advancements, identifying strategies to improve the treatment of cancers dependent on hypoxia pathway activation, or better ways to detect these cancers earlier. They do this by using genetic methods to study tumor-initiating events and events that promote the development of invasive or metastatic features using in vitro, animal and human systems (e.g. translational, preclinical and clinical trials). This translational model, premised on the understanding of genetics and molecular biology of hypoxia-driven cancers, is incorporated into the Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center clinical research program.