Karnofsky Award Presented to Distinguished Hematologist/Oncologist
Kanti R. Rai, MD, an internationally recognized expert on adult leukemia, is the recipient of the 2012 David A. Karnofsky Memorial Award and Lecture.
Dr. Rai is Chief of the Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Research and Treatment Program at North Shore-Long Island Jewish (LIJ) Health System, the Joel Finkelstein Cancer Foundation Professor of Medicine at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine, and investigator at The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research. He will accept the award and deliver his lecture during the Opening Session today, at 9:30 AM, N Hall B1.
|Kanti R. Rai, MD
Dr. Rai is identified around the world as the developer of the Rai clinical staging system for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), a method based on an assessment of the tumor burden of the disease using clinically available criteria. It is used by oncologists to predict disease response and tailor therapy appropriately for the individual patient. Although the staging system bears his name, Dr. Rai insists on sharing credit.
"It was never a single person’s achievement—it was always teamwork,” he said in an interview with ASCO Daily News.
In his lecture, he intends to emphasize the accomplishments and contributions of his colleagues in advancing the care and treatment of CLL.
Born in Jodhpur, India, and a graduate of Sawai ManSingh Medical College, University of Rajasthan, in Jaipur, Dr. Rai came to the United States to continue his training with the intention of returning to his home country as a pediatrician.
He completed residencies in pediatric medicine at Lincoln Hospital and at North Shore University Hospital, where a young patient captured his attention.
Her name was Lori, she was 3 years old, and she had acute leukemia— an incurable disease at that time.
"This was 1958. When I got to know this little girl, it was impossible not to become personally involved. My mentor noticed that over the subsequent few months my involvement in trying to conquer this disease was serious, and he took me by the hand and led me to my future career," Dr. Rai said.
With the encouragement of his mentor, Arthur Sawitsky, MD, Dr. Rai completed a fellowship in hematology and nuclear medicine at LIJ Medical Center, where his interest in leukemia and clinical research deepened. He joined the Hematopoetic Cell Kinetics research team at the Brookhaven National Laboratory.
Dr. Rai returned to India for a few years but was drawn back to the United States and to Brookhaven by the opportunities for cutting-edge research in leukemia. Before taking on his current positions, Dr. Rai also was associated with State University of New York at Stony Brook, Parker Institute for Geriatric Care, and Albert Einstein School of Medicine.
When asked about his career highlights, Dr. Rai does not cite his namesake staging system or the groundbreaking clinical research he has led. Rather, he remembers the guidance and direction provided by his mentors Dr. Sawitsky and Eugene P. Cronkite, MD, during the heady days of early progress in CLL and research in kinetics of leukemia cells.
|"Developing a trusting friendship where we can openly discuss, even disagree sometimes, and yet move the direction of our research forward ... makes for a very productive collaboration."
— Kanti R. Rai, MD
He speaks highly of his collaborator and Co-Chief of the CLL Research Program at the Feinstein Institute, Nicholas Chiorazzi, MD. Dr. Rai calls their partnership "exceptional and fortuitous" in bringing a clinical researcher and a basic scientist together on questions related to molecular and biologic targets in CLL.
"Developing a trusting friendship where we can openly discuss, even disagree sometimes, and yet move the direction of our research forward, based on one another’s findings, makes for a very productive collaboration," Dr. Rai said. "We’re working to develop discrete targets and better treatments for CLL."
An ASCO member since 1970, Dr. Rai has served on the Society’s Clinical Practice Committee (2007-2010). He is among the leaders of the Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Research Consortium and the International Workshop on CLL and has been a long-standing member of Cancer and Leukemia Group B.
He is active in the American Association for Cancer Research and served as the 2006 president of the American Society of Hematology.
The David A. Karnofsky Memorial Award and Lecture, first conferred in 1970, is ASCO’s highest scientific honor.
"I’ve been an active member of ASCO for more than 40 years, and I have never missed a Karnofsky Award lecture," Dr. Rai said. "I’m deeply honored and very touched to be among the awardees."