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Inspiring Hope: Meet the 2022 ABTA Award Recipients

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The ABTA is pleased to announce the recipients for its two highest honors, the Joel A. Gingras Jr. Award and the Juliana Schafer Spirit of Hope Award. These awards aim to recognize an individual or group who made a significant impact toward the ABTA mission and pay tribute to two individuals who lost their battle to a brain tumor. 

Watch the ABTA Awards presentation recording from the 2022 National Conference on YouTube.

2022 Joel A. Gingras Jr. Award Recipient

Dr. Mark Gilbert
Chief, Senior Investigator, Neuro-Oncology Branch, CCR, NCI, NIH. CCR Deputy Director.

“For his commitment to the ABTA mission, including his focus on education, research collaboration and expansion of clinical trial access, the ABTA is proud to recognize Dr. Gilbert for his leadership.”

Dr. Mark Gilbert, MD, 2022 ABTA JAG Award Recipient

At the National Cancer Institute (NCI), Dr. Mark Gilbert leads a robust team of researchers and clinicians performing cutting-edge research in the field of neuro-oncology. In his pursuit of advancing brain tumor treatments, Dr. Gilbert also aspires to make clinical and translational research more accessible, so that physicians around the world can make a collective impact on neuro-oncology.

Before becoming Senior Investigator for the Neuro-Oncology Branch (NOB) at the NCI, Dr. Gilbert had a successful 14-year tenure at the Department of Neuro-Oncology at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Texas. He has also held academic positions at Johns Hopkins, University of Pittsburgh, and Emory University. 

Throughout his career, Dr. Gilbert has gained international recognition for his roles in different clinical trial initiatives. In 2005, he was appointed Director of the Brain Tumor Trials Collaborative (BTTC), which seeks to expand clinical trial access to patients across the country. In 2006, Dr. Gilbert launched the Collaborative Ependymoma Research Network (CERN), where he served as (former) Director and Principal Investigator studying this rare form of CNS cancer. 

Since 2011, Dr. Gilbert has been actively involved with the ABTA, presenting several webinars, speaking at Patient & Family Meetings, and participating in several mock tumor boards at the ABTA National Conference. In 2020, he served as a National Conference co-chair, where he crafted a dynamic, patient-centric program at the height of the Covid19 pandemic.

Dr. Gilbert has also collaborated with the ABTA on the NCI-CONNECT partnership, a comprehensive oncology network that evaluates rare CNS tumors to help improve approaches to treatment and care. 

Currently, Dr. Gilbert is working with ABTA Research staff to develop a program for NCI fellows to apply and be selected through the peer competitive review process, allowing them to become part of the ABTA Alumni Research Network (AARN). 

About the Joel A. Gingras Jr. Award

Since 2010, the ABTA has awarded the Joel A. Gingras Jr. Award, the highest honor, to an individual, organization or group that has made significant contributions to the Association’s mission through philanthropy, advocacy, discovery, or patient care.  

The Gingras Award pays tribute to Joel A. Gingras Jr., who died in 1988 due to complications from treatment of a choroid plexus papilloma, a rare, non-cancerous brain tumor. 

2022 Juliana Schafer Spirit of Hope Award Recipient

Deborah Rizzo
Brain Tumor Community Advocate

Deborah Rizzo truly lives every day to the fullest and makes a significant impact towards fulfilling the ABTA mission. Since the passing of her beloved college friend, Billy Misik, who lost his battle with GBM at the age of 21, and that of a close family friend, Lou Zucker, Deborah has devoted her time and effort to increasing brain tumor awareness and raising funds for brain tumor research. 

Deborah Rizzo

What started as a bucket-list item in honor of a friend turned into 10 years of racing, fundraising, educating, and advocating for the ABTA. In 2012, Deborah established “Team Carpe Diem” to inspire others to live by Billy’s motto, “Seize the Day,” his mantra while battling GBM. Deborah and Team Carpe Diem have since been running marathons, including the Bank of America Chicago Marathon (twice), half marathons, 10Ks and 5Ks in several states. Their sole purpose: to raise funds for brain tumor research through the ABTA.  

While participating in these events, Deborah has written the names of Billy, Lou and others who’ve passed from brain tumors on her running shoes, so that they run with her and are not forgotten.

Deborah’s efforts to date have raised nearly $20,000 for brain tumor research.

Like Juliana Schafer, Deborah demonstrates creativity, dedication, perseverance, and heartfelt empathy to those who have lost loved ones to brain tumors. As a music therapist, Deborah helps others, including brain tumor patients, process their emotions through the power of music.

She presented “Music Therapy with Caregivers for Pediatric Brain Cancer and Brain Tumor Patients” in Philadelphia in 2018 at BrainFest, an event dedicated to raising funds and awareness for the advancement in the understanding and treatment of brain tumors.  

As with Juliana Schafer, there is no quit in Deborah Rizzo. Her tremendous passion and unwavering support of the ABTA through her volunteerism continues to benefit the brain tumor community. Thank you, Deborah, for your service on behalf of the brain tumor community.  

About the Juliana Schafer Spirit of Hope Award

The Juliana Schafer Spirit of Hope Award recognizes and honors individuals, organizations or groups who generously donate their time and talents to further the ABTA mission. The award is named after Juliana Schafer, a long-time volunteer for the ABTA. Juliana was passionate about the ABTA’s mission, from the patient and caregiver resources to the funding of cutting-edge research it provides.  

Juliana, her family, and friends were dedicated to fundraising for and increasing awareness of the ABTA. Even from her hospice bed, Juliana was on her phone raising money through her Breakthrough for Brain Tumors 5K (BT5K) team, aptly named Team Hope. The pride she took in those efforts brought her comfort to the very end. Juliana passed away in 2021, but her spirit continues to live on.   

Jessie Schlacks

Jessie Schlacks

Jessie is Managing Editor of the bi-monthly e-newsletter MindMatters. Submit story ideas or questions to jschlacks@abta.org.