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St. Jude Children's Research Hospital CEO and a hospital faculty member recognized for contributions to cancer research

James R. Downing, M.D., and Charles Mullighan, MBBS, M.D., have received awards from prestigious cancer research institutions.

Memphis, Tennessee, May 18, 2017

James R. Downing, M.D.

James R. Downing, M.D., St. Jude Children's Research Hospital president and chief executive officer

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital today announced President and CEO James Downing, M.D., and hospital faculty member Charles Mullighan, MBBS, M.D., are being recognized for achievements in cancer research.

The Society of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center announced today that Downing is the 2017 recipient of The Society of Memorial Sloan Kettering Prize. Created in 2016, the award recognizes an individual who has made exceptional and significant contributions to the field of pediatric oncology.

Downing is a world-renowned leader in the field of pediatric cancer research. He has focused his career and research on understanding the genetic basis of cancer to improve treatment for children with the disease. Among his many accomplishments, he has had a significant influence on defining the genetics and genomics of pediatric cancers.

"Dr. Downing's leadership and vision in the field of pediatric oncology are truly monumental," said Andrew Kung, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the Department of Pediatrics at MSK. "Because of his discoveries, we have seen a true impact and major advances for pediatric patients globally. Furthermore, these advances are important as they make a difference to the littlest and most vulnerable patients."

Downing was instrumental in launching the Pediatric Cancer Genome Project, which has sequenced the normal and cancer genomes of more than 800 young cancer patients with some of the least understood and most aggressive tumors.

"During my 30-plus years in science and medicine, steady progress has been made to understand why childhood cancer arises, spreads and resists treatment," Downing said. "I feel privileged that my work has helped advance the fight against this disease. I share the honor of the 2017 Society Prize with my colleagues at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, who work toward the day when every child with cancer can be cured."

Charles Mullighan, MBBS, M.D.

Charles Mullighan, M.D., MBBS, a member of the St. Jude Department of Pathology

In addition to Downing's recognition, Charles Mullighan, MBBS, M.D., a member of the St. Jude Department of Pathology, recently was named a recipient of the National Cancer Institute Outstanding Investigator Award. The prize provides seven years of funding to give cancer researchers time to break new ground or extend previous discoveries. 

Mullighan and his lab have used genomic profiling and experimental modeling to make significant advances in identification and understanding of high risk and relapsed leukemia.

"The NCI Outstanding Investigator Award addresses a problem that many cancer researchers experience: finding a balance between focusing on their science while ensuring that they will have funds to continue their research in the future," said Dinah Singer, Ph.D., director of NCI’s Division of Cancer Biology. "With seven years of uninterrupted funding, NCI is providing investigators the opportunity to fully develop exceptional and ambitious cancer research programs."

Award recipients are cancer researchers, nominated by their institutions, who have served as a principal investigator on an NCI grant for the last five years and who have demonstrated outstanding productivity.

"The award is an honor and will significantly contribute to research for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which is the most common childhood cancer," Mullighan said. "Our goal is to comprehensively understand the genetic basis of leukemia and use that information to advance not only understanding of leukemia development, but to develop new diagnostic and therapeutic approaches."

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is leading the way the world understands, treats and cures childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. It is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted solely to children. Treatments developed at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20% to 80% since the hospital opened more than 50 years ago. St. Jude shares the discoveries it makes, and every child saved at St. Jude means doctors and scientists worldwide can use that knowledge to save thousands more children. To learn more, visit or follow St. Jude on social media at @stjuderesearch.