In his decades-long career and through his work at the helm of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Stem Cell Program, Leonard Zon, MD, has changed the way blood cancers are studied. A quick tour of his contributions would include: turning the zebrafish into a major vehicle for studying deadly diseases; discovering new avenues for stem cell treatments for patients; and showing how activation of a stem-cell-like state turns a mole into a melanoma.
For those contributions and countless others, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) has named Zon its 2017 Irving Weinstein Foundation Distinguished Lecturer. The Lectureship, established in 2004, honors an individual whose outstanding innovations in science and whose position as a thought leader have the potential to inspire creative thinking and new directions in cancer research.
“I am honored to receive this distinguished lectureship,” Zon said. “The work we do at the Zon Lab and Stem Cell Program will change the way disease is understood and treated. I am thrilled that [AACR] agrees that what we are doing at Boston Children’s is groundbreaking.”
In particular, Zon was chosen as this year’s honoree for his pioneering work in establishing zebrafish as an effective animal model system to study hematopoiesis and blood-related cancers. Zon was the first to analyze the zebrafish blood system and to find mutants that lacked blood cells, paving the way for the first zebrafish model of disease.
Zon went on to discover a small molecule that increased blood stem cells in zebrafish, which he has since used in clinical trials for patients receiving a transplant as part of their leukemia treatment. More recently, he used zebrafish to discover drugs that help transplanted stem cells engraft. He also created the first solid tumor models in zebrafish, and his work studying zebrafish melanoma has led to the testing of a compound in a clinical trial for metastatic melanoma.
AACR CEO Margaret Foti, MD, PhD, went on to explain that Zon’s work “has revolutionized cell biology and has created the foundation for countless studies dedicated to understanding the complexities of cancer initiation and progression.”