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Waun Ki Hong,trailblazing MD Anderson scientist dies at age 76

Dr. Waun Ki Hong, an MD Anderson Cancer Center physician-scientist whose pioneering research broke ground in three major fields, died last week unexpectedly in Newport Beach, Calif., following a short illness..

A statement given by Dr. Peter Pisters, president of MD Anderson, stated that “Waun Ki Hong’s brilliant clinical research and mentorship of hundreds of clinicians have extended the lives and improved the quality of life of cancer patients everywhere, He’ll be greatly missed. Dr. Waun Ki Honge leaves a powerful, far-reaching legacy personally and professionally.”

Dr. Patrick Hwu, who succeeded Hong after his retirement from MD Anderson in 2014, as head of cancer medicine at MD Anderson, said Hong’s most important quality was “his selfless mentorship of so many, the way he helped people without expecting anything in return.” Hwu described Hong as like “a father to me.”

In addition, a number of clinical trials Hong designed and conducted changed medical practice. In the early 1980s, for instance, he led a landmark trial demonstrating that patients with laryngeal cancer fared just as well when treated with chemotherapy and radiation as those who underwent surgery to remove the larynx, which robbed them of their ability to speak. The finding inspired follow-up research that showed similar organ-sparing benefits in other cancers. He also conducted a clinical showing that oral cancers could be prevented by treating precancerous lesions, which earned him the reputation as the father of chemo-prevention. The trial jump-started the field and led to the use of drugs such as tamoxifen and raloxifene to prevent breast cancer.