Dr. W. Kimryn Rathmell received the Eugene P. Schonfeld Award last week at the Kidney Cancer Association’s 18th International Kidney Cancer Symposium (IKCS) in Miami, Florida.
Rathmell, a professor and director of the Division of Hematology and Oncology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), was the first woman to receive the honor, which is granted by the IKCS Scientific Program Committee to recognize respected health care professionals who have made significant contributions in the treatment of renal cell carcinoma.
“The Schonfeld Award represents such a validation for me: of the value in basic science to a clinical discipline, of the importance of being a part of a community, and of the merit in being unique,” Rathmell said.
“When I introduced [Dr. Robert Figlin, professor and director of the Division of Hematology/Oncology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, in 2013] for his Schonfeld Award, I was very proud to craft his introduction, and it did not for a minute occur to me that I might be on that stage one day—precisely because I felt too much like a unicorn, as a basic scientist who worked in half a dozen different arenas, and who showed up to do clinical trials, and on patient advocacy forums, and who was often the only female physician in these venues.”
But Rathmell’s wide-ranging professional activities and research interests that pivoted through multiple foci within kidney cancer – from categorizing different subtypes for treatment to prediction, epigenetics, gene mutations, and more – proved compelling in her selection.
“Dr. Rathmell is a shining star in the field of kidney cancer research,” said Dr. Matthew Campbell of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and a member of the IKCS Scientific Program Committee. “Her mechanistic based research has opened entire new fields of questions and is forming the foundation for developing major new therapeutic targets. She is an influential mentor, a willing collaborator, and a tremendous leader.”
“Her translational basic science work has contributed greatly to our understanding of the biology of kidney cancer and has led to treatment advances. It’s remarkable and outstanding that she’s the first woman to ever win the award and we look to awarding this to other women leaders in the field in the future,” said Dr. Christopher Wood, professor and deputy chairman of the Department of Urology at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and Chair of the KCA’s Board of Directors.
As part of his introduction, Wood read a letter from Faith Schonfeld, wife of the late Eugene P. Schonfeld, who founded the first incarnation of the Kidney Cancer Association in Chicago in 1989 after his renal cell carcinoma diagnosis, to Rathmell.
In it, she highlighted the importance of Rathmell’s leadership, leadership from women in medicine, and men who support their female colleagues.
“Gene would be tremendously pleased at Dr. Rathmell’s recognition and proud of the KCA for identifying and honoring her contribution. I feel just as would Gene and congratulate Dr. Rathmell, thanking her for her contributions, wishing her every future success, and encouraging her to continue her efforts on behalf of kidney cancer patients,” Schonfeld wrote.
During her Eugene P. Schonfeld Memorial Lecture, Rathmell recognized the students, fellows, mentees, and colleagues who were important collaborators over the arc of her career – a touch that reflected the hallmark mentorship and support that many spoke of.
“Kim is the reason that I decided to pursue a career as a physician-scientist,” said Dr. Scott Haake, a medical oncologist and PhD candidate in cancer biology in Rathmell’s lab at VUMC, and a KCA 2019 Young Investigator Award recipient (read our Q and A about his research ).
“Her faith that I would succeed at it came off illogical to me at times but was inspiring nonetheless…. I think the world of her as a mentor and as a scientist and I don’t think there could have been a better selection.”
“More than anything else she is a mentor and coach and that’s what distinguishes Dr. Rathmell,” said Dr. Toni Choueiri, director of the Kidney Cancer Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, in his award introduction.
“We’re so thrilled for Dr. Rathmell and cannot think of anyone more deserving,” said Gretchen E. Vaughan, KCA’s CEO and President. “As a professional, she’s unmatched. But as an advocate for kidney cancer patients, she is tireless and always ensures their voices are heard – setting a wonderful example for other young clinicians.”
Rathmell spoke more about what the Schonfeld award means to her.
“I am grateful that the leadership chose me for the award, but I think it is important to have broken the gender barrier for this special recognition,” she said.
“Urologic oncology remains gender imbalanced, for many historical reasons. We have many strong women emerging in our ranks. Hopefully within a few years the panels on the stage will reflect the full diversity of our community. Awarding this special recognition to a female investigator demonstrates to the full membership of the meeting that the KCA is committed to supporting all investigators who are dedicated to advancing the science that leads to cures and improvements in care for patients with kidney cancer.”
Dr. Rathmell is the Cornelius Abernathy Craig Professor of Medicine at VUMC, president of The American Society for Clinical Investigation, chair of the Kidney Cancer Research Program for the Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs, and a member of the KCA’s Medical Steering Committee.