Dr. Robert F. Gagel is a principal founder of ITOG. After treating patients with rare thyroid cancers at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas, he had the foresight to design a better approach to utilize the limited funding resources available and envisioned a new organization to bring experts together to share research, debate ideas and to develop a logical approach for prioritizing new treatments. In 2004, he and Dr. Barry Nelkin selected a “Dream Team” of physicians and scientists to attend the first ITOG meeting in Bethesda, MD. He worked tirelessly to get the organization off the ground and was elected to become the first Chair and was then reelected to serve a second term. One of Dr. Gagel’s greatest contributions to ITOG was his focus on establishing a culture of trust in order to foster collaboration. His professional accomplishments, including his research in familial medullary thyroid cancer (MTC), speak for themselves.
In honor of Dr. Gagel’s tremendous contributions to ITOG, the Board of Directors established a grant of $100,000 for the ITOG member with the best scientific proposal that would have direct translational implications toward developing novel treatments for thyroid cancer. After a competitive scientific peer review process, ITOG awarded the inaugural Robert F. Gagel Discovery Award to Dr. Yariv Houvras, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College.
At the ITOG Annual Meeting at Duke University in April 2017, Dr. Houvras presented a progress report to the general membership. The award is being used to examine the effects of kinase inhibitors on thyroid and vascular endothelial cells. Using zebrafish models, scientists from Dr. Houvras' lab are examining the FDA approved kinase inhibitor, lenvatinib (Lenvima), to better understand the precise mechanism of its action. Dr. Houvras explained, "A major advantage of the zebrafish models is the ability to visualize thyroid cells in a living organism, and study the effects that drugs we use in clinic have. By doing this in a whole organism we can see effects on blood vessels and thyroid cells."
Applications for the second Robert F. Gagel ITOG Discovery Award were received by The ITOG Committee for Correlative Sciences, chaired by Dr. James Fagin. This committee will review the numerous research proposals submitted by ITOG members including preclinical studies, mechanism-based correlative studies of thyroid cancer clinical trials, and proposals for resources to assist in the identification of subjects for ITOG-sponsored clinical trials. The final funding decision of one project will be approved by the Board of Directors and an announcement of the second grant recipient will be made at the Annual Meeting of the ITOG in 2018, to be held in Los Angeles, CA.