April 19, 2021

WSU faculty to receive Karmanos Heroes of Cancer Awards

A number of Wayne State University School of Medicine faculty members will be honored this week during the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute’s 26th annual Heroes of Cancer Awards program.

The Heroes of Cancer Awards recognize a wide range of community members, including survivors, organizations, medical and scientific leaders and media representatives who champion those battling cancer. Whether they are raising awareness, providing services to help patients and their families, inspiring others or fundraising to help advance cancer research, each of these individuals, organizations and groups make a difference for those impacted with cancer.

Award winners will be honored at a virtual event from 7 to 8 p.m. April 21. Visit www.karmanos.org/heroesofcancer to tune in. The ceremony will be hosted by Ann Delisi, broadcaster and host of “Essential Music” on WDET-FM.

Those to be recognized include:

Michael Cher, M.D., professor and chair of Urology, who will receive the Compassionate Caregiver Award. Dr. Cher, the organizers said, is a highly-skilled surgeon and physician in all aspects of genitourinary oncology. He is compassionate, caring and always takes time with his patients and their family members to answer questions and address concerns.

Not only does Dr. Cher take a vested interest in his patients, he is a meticulous surgeon. He follows his patients’ survivorship and maintains a database of outcomes over time regarding the quality of life to improve care. He enrolls patients in clinical trials frequently and is a pioneer in the Michigan Urological Surgical Improvement Collaborative, which has set statewide standards of care.

Jeffrey Forman, M.D., FACR, a former chair of the Wayne State University Department of Radiation Oncology, will receive the Geri Lester Courage Award posthumously. The award honors a person whose battle with cancer has been an inspiration to family, friends and community.

Dr. Forman, who died April 8, 2020, served as medical director of Development for the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute. During his 14-year career with the institute, he served as medical director of affiliate programs and satellites, medical director of philanthropy, chief and chair of the Multidisciplinary Urology Oncology Program, director of the Neutron Therapy Program and associate director of Clinical Care.

Named a Health Care Hero in 2004 by Crain’s Detroit Business, Dr. Forman became a professor of Radiation Oncology in 2007. He left WSU and Karmanos in 2007 to serve as medical director and national director of prostate cancer research for 21st Century Oncology in Michigan. He retired from practice in 2017 to become medical director of the Jewish Hospice and Chaplaincy Network. He returned to Karmanos to serve as medical director of Development in May 2018.

Dr. Forman was a tireless proponent for patients and for the cancer institute. In recognizing him, Crain’s noted his contributions in advancing prostate cancer research, developing a model of suburban outpatient care for cancer and raising funds to support the institute's mission.

Nerissa Viola, Ph.D., associate professor of Oncology, will receive the Dr. Michael J. Brennan Scientific Distinction Award, which honors those who demonstrate leadership in basic or clinical cancer research.

Dr. Viola is the co-leader of the Molecular Imaging Program. Her research focuses on the development of novel, quantitative imaging agents to interrogate tumor biology. Her work continues to lead toward the development of positron emission tomography radiotracers specific for oncogenic biomarkers and immune signatures.

In 2019, Dr. Viola received the Junior Faculty Award from the Wayne State University Academy of Scholars, solidifying her as exceptional young faculty and demonstrating the importance of her work.
Hayley Thompson, Ph.D., professor of Oncology, will receive the Dr. Gloria Heppner Innovative Science Award, which is presented annually to those who have proven success with innovative initiatives that help advance cancer research.

Dr. Thompson is the associate center director of Community Outreach and Engagement, tackling racial disparities through novel approaches to engage communities in research. Her work seeks to understand and eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in cancer prevention and control, specifically screening and survivorship. Her research has focused on the assessment of sociocultural factors that influence cancer screening.

The creator of the Group-Based Medical Mistrust Scale, Dr. Thompson's research extends to the development of culturally-targeted interventions to enhance cancer care in the community.

“It is inspiring to see this list of talented professionals who are making an impact in the fight against cancer,” said Gerold Bepler, M.D., Ph.D., president and chief executive officer of the Karmanos Cancer Institute, chair of WSU Oncology and associate dean of Cancer Programs. “The Karmanos Heroes of Cancer Awards provide a great opportunity for us to celebrate the extraordinary achievements of the leaders in our community. Each is dedicated to the well-being of cancer patients and helping to advance treatment breakthroughs that can lead to improved outcomes – not just for those treated at Karmanos, but for all cancer patients.”