(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – Jonathan Finlay, MB, ChB, FRCP, program director of Neuro-Oncology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, has become the first pediatric specialist to receive the Society for Neuro-Oncology’s Lifetime Achievement Award, which may be awarded to anyone connected to the field of neuro-oncology clinical care or research. Recipients must have also trained or motivated many current clinicians and investigators in neuro-oncology.
The award is not given out every year; it is only awarded when the committee — SNO’s scientific meeting leadership and executive committee members — feel that a nominee has truly made a tremendous impact on the field over the course of their career. Dr. Finlay was presented with the award on November 22 by Eric Bouffet, section head of neuro-oncology at The Hospital for Sick Children, at the SNO Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona.
“Dr. Finlay’s 40-year career is absolutely stellar. There is no question he propelled the field forward,” said J. Charles Haynes, JD, executive director of the Society for Neuro-Oncology. Dr. Finlay received multiple nominations from institutions across the United States. “There was a groundswell of enthusiasm for his nomination. He has been tireless in his efforts and incredibly passionate about moving treatment options forward in pediatric brain cancer. It’s long overdue, and appropriate that he be recognized this way.”
At the start of his career in 1980, Dr. Finlay noticed the devastating impacts of radiation therapy on young children with malignant brain tumors and dedicated his time to improving their quality of life and cure rates. His flagship clinical research program, known as Head Start (now in its fourth iteration at dozens of sites globally), became the first to investigate and endorse high-dose chemotherapy coupled with bone marrow transplants for young brain tumor patients. The various combinations Dr. Finlay and his trial collaborators have studied now allow many young patients to avoid radiation therapy and its cognitive and developmental side effects. This approach has become the standard of care for young children with many types of malignant brain tumors.
Dr. Finlay has also founded and continues to lead numerous international outreach and education programs to improve cure rates and outcomes for children in developing nations, which often have very poor survival rates due to limited resources and training.
Perhaps most notably, however, his influence can be seen in the next generation of pediatric neuro-oncologists.
“Many people will attest to the fact that it’s really hard to find faculty or pediatric brain tumor oncologists who haven’t either been under his direct tutelage or have benefitted from his mentorship in some way,” said Timothy Cripe, MD, PhD, FAAP, chief of the Division of Hematology and Oncology at Nationwide Children’s. “He is extremely generous with his time and is a true joy to interact with and learn from.”
This legacy of a broad network of new pediatric neuro-oncology leaders across the globe is one of Dr. Finlay’s most treasured contributions to the field. His other, of course, is the large number of patients who have benefitted from his care.
“In many ways I feel the Lifetime Achievement Award is a validation of the work I’ve been focused on for so many years. The idea of treating kids with brain cancer with high-dose chemotherapy and bone marrow transplant was met with significant skepticism when I started and for a number of years afterwards,” said Dr. Finlay, who has received numerous other awards recognizing his contributions to neuro-oncology. “This is certainly the most profoundly impactful and the greatest award I’ve had in my academic career. I didn’t expect it, and I am incredibly gratified, humbled and honored.”
“We are thrilled that Dr. Finlay has been awarded our society’s Lifetime Achievement Award,” said Patrick Wen, MD, president of the Society for Neuro-Oncology and a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School. “Jonathan’s career-long commitment to improve the treatment and outcomes for children with brain tumors is legendary in our community. We are especially pleased that for the first time in the society’s 24-year history, the Lifetime Achievement Award has gone to one of our pediatric colleagues. This recognition is richly deserved.”
Dr. Finlay is not content to stop now, though. He presented research at the annual SNO scientific congress and will continue his clinical and research work at Nationwide Children’s as well as his international training efforts — this time bringing no-radiation protocols for the treatment of germ cell tumors to parts of southeast Asia, where radiation equipment is limited, the tumors are more common, survival is poor and access to treatment is low.
Dr. Finlay is a tenured professor of pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. Prior to his arrival at Nationwide Children’s, he held faculty positions at the University of Southern California – Los Angeles, Stanford University, University of Wisconsin – Madison, the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell University and New York University. He has authored more than 350 peer-reviewed research publications in the field of neuro-oncology and has been involved in nearly every neuro-oncology professional organization.
NOTE TO EDITOR: Dr. Finlay is a resident of Worthington, OH 43085.