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Lynch honored for career spent in research, patient advocacy

Henry T. Lynch, MD, earned the 2016 American Society for Clinical Pathology's Patients' Advocate Award.More than a half-century of hard science on the trail of hereditary cancer has not at all hardened Henry T. Lynch, MD.

Patients and people are still at the core of his mission. Oct. 21, the longtime Creighton University School of Medicine professor and the discoverer of the hereditary links between certain forms of cancer was honored by the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) with the organization’s 2016 Patients’ Advocate Award, recognizing Lynch’s dedication not only to the profession and promotion of pathology, but to his overwhelming demonstrations of care and compassion for patients.

“That’s what it’s all about, every day,” said Lynch, who, at 88, is still at work in his laboratory at the Hereditary Cancer Center he founded in 1984. “People, patients, they mean everything to me. The potential to save lives still drives me and it’s what my work has been about these past 50 years. Moreover, genetics being what it is, the risk factors in different families where cancer occurs, the thought of that still hits me.”

The award was the latest in a long line that have attached to Lynch who, in the 1960s, first began formulating his hereditary cancer hypothesis, an idea not readily adopted by the medical establishment.

Today, after countless of hours of research and talks and published papers ranging into the thousands, Lynch Syndrome is recognized as a major cancer indicator and families often seek out Lynch and his team to determine their cancer risks.

Bestowing the award to Lynch was James Wisecarver, MD, PhD’78, a professor of pathology and microbiology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and the ASCP president-elect. As a doctoral student at Creighton in the 1970s, Wisecarver recalled watching a congregation come and go as Lynch and his team worked tirelessly collecting family histories and drilling down in their research.

“I was just down the hall from a door marked ‘Henry Lynch’s Lab’ and I would watch them all come and go, spending weeks in a Winnebago, rolling out all across the region, identifying the families,” said Wisecarver, who also brought a delegation of cancer researchers from UNMC to help recognize Lynch. “It was exciting to witness the early years of Dr. Lynch’s work.”

With the honor, Lynch joins such luminaries as the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, former First Lady Laura Bush and her daughter Barbara, and Paul Farmer, MD, whose humanitarian efforts have taken him across the world in search of cures, ministering to the most marginalized populations.

Putting greater emphasis on the patients and the people, Lynch was adamant in acknowledging the team effort he said has always surrounded him at Creighton.

“I’m overcome with a sincere sense of gratitude for what has been bestowed upon me and upon my staff,” he said. “The team approach has always been my approach. I could not have done any of this without the dedication of the people who are in this room with me here today. It means so much to me to know that I’ve had their support and the support of Creighton throughout my career here.”

Creighton University is a Jesuit, Catholic university bridging health, law, business and the arts and sciences for a more just world.