2022 ASTRO Gold Medal Recipients
Luminaries in Radiation Oncology Awarded Society's Most Prestigious Award
By Jennifer Jang and Diane Kean, ASTRO Communications
ASTRO awards its highest honor, the ASTRO Gold Medal, to those who have made significant impacts to the field of radiation oncology. ASTRO Gold Medal recipients represent a premium class of leaders who have contributed to the field through their clinical patient care, research, teaching, mentorship and service. Congratulations to the 2022 ASTRO Gold Medal recipients: Wendell Lutz, PhD, and Tim R. Williams, MD, FASTRO, who join the revered class in receiving ASTRO’s highest honor.
Wendell Lutz, PhD, is a medical physicist, engineer, inventor and educator whose contributions have led to significant advancements to the field of radiation oncology. Dr. Lutz’s career spans decades during which the field has seen growth and change, but his lasting contributions still positively impact radiation oncology today.
Dr. Lutz received his undergraduate degree in Physics from Wittenberg University, in Ohio, a field of study he naturally gravitated to as his father was a professor of physics at the university. Dr. Lutz grew up playing in university labs, his toys various physics related devices. That early exposure led to Dr. Lutz receiving his PhD in nuclear physics in 1973 from Purdue University. He then moved to Iran to teach physics at Pahlavi University. Returning stateside, Dr. Lutz taught physics at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. After five years, an opportunity to train with medical physicists at Harvard’s Joint Center for Radiation Therapy (JCRT) brought him to Boston. What initially was going to be a six month to one year stint turned into some of the most meaningful and influential years of his career.
Under the leadership of Bengt Bjarngard, PhD, and Samuel Hellman, MD, Dr. Lutz was able to work on various projects for the department, most notably, a partnership that ensued with Ken Winston, MD, a neurosurgeon at Harvard. Together, they developed a very impactful contribution to the field of radiation oncology — a linear accelerator-based stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) system.
Often called the “fathers of linac-radiosurgery,” together the partners “ushered in a remarkable era of technology advancement in the field” by developing a precision technique to deliver high dose radiation in single fractions to the brain, which then paved the way to deliver this treatment to other areas of the body.
After this development, Dr. Lutz transitioned to the Radiation Oncology Department at the University of Arizona in Tucson under the leadership of chair Robert Cassady, MD, and with colleagues started developing the equipment and planning software to assist others in replicating the JCRT method. As noted in a 2014 ASTROnews article on the topic, Dr. Lutz wrote, “With Dr. Cassady’s support and significant contributions from Dr. Bruce Lulu and Bill Kimball, we assisted almost 40 institutions in implementing this radiosurgery technique.” Commercialized variations and improvements in this technique have been adopted worldwide and benefited many patients.
When reflecting on this accomplishment, Dr. Lutz remains, as his colleagues are apt to point out, ever humble. “I am proud of the opportunity we had to help so many places begin radiosurgery,” said Dr. Lutz. “But there is always a 'we’ and being able to work with Dr. Winston and other colleagues at the JCRT on the radiosurgery project is something I am very proud of.”
Dr. Lutz also shared another lesser well-known accomplishment from his time at the JCRT that he is very proud of. Dr. Lutz, in collaboration with colleagues, designed and built a unique two-linac total body irradiator in support of a large bone marrow transplant program at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. This equipment, which was originally two decommissioned linacs, ended up being in use for 35 years and, while the impact was local within the program, extended the lives of thousands of patients.
Dr. Lutz is renowned as an innovator in the creation of many quality assurance (QA) techniques and devices, including the Lutz Isocenter Checker, the Lutz Phantom and the Lutz Stereotactic Box. His methods and creations have been studied and adopted worldwide and formed a foundation leading to the development of stereotactic body radiation therapy. The Winston-Lutz test continues to be used universally for ensuring the accurate implementation of SRS and SBRT. “I was always focused on the patients. Are the patients being treated properly, are the linacs working properly,” said Dr. Lutz.
Throughout his career, and perhaps due in part to the influence of his parents, his father a professor and his mother a school teacher, Dr. Lutz served as an enthusiastic and dedicated educator, contributing to the training of many medical physicists and radiation oncologists. Dr. Lutz held faculty positions at Harvard, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) and the University of Arizona, working with post-doctoral students on their research projects and teaching radiation oncology residents medical physics. While at MSKCC, Dr. Lutz was honored with the Best Teacher Award and in 2010, Dr. Lutz received the Association of Residents in Radiation Oncology (ARRO) Educator of the Year award.
“I love teaching, and at all the different institutions where I worked, it allowed me to have informal and personal connections with medical residents,” Dr. Lutz said. “It was always a pleasure to work with the residents because they were interested, very bright, and of course, obligated to learn radiological physics.”
In 2002, Dr. Lutz left the east coast for good, transitioning from MSKCC back to the University of Arizona and began teaching part-time in the medical physics master’s program and the medical residents physics course. More recently, Dr. Lutz has worked with close friend and veterinary oncologist Dr. Mary Kay Klein, assisting in designing and building a linac-based radiation oncology facility to treat primarily dogs with cancer. Drs. Lutz and Klein, along with Dr. Sarah Charney, even developed a system for treating dogs with stereotactic radiosurgery/radiotherapy. This system has subsequently been used in many other veterinary clinics. In addition, for 10 years Dr. Lutz offered a free course in radiological physics in Tucson open to all veterinary residents throughout the country preparing for their board exams. Currently he is consulting with two start-up companies on using beta radiation to treat wet macular degeneration and advanced glaucoma eye disorders.
Dr. Lutz is highly decorated, receiving many awards and honors, including the Edith H. Quimby Lifetime Achievement Award in Medical Physics from the American Association of Physicists in Medicine, being named distinguished alumnus by both Wittenberg and Purdue, and in 1992, Harvard endowed the Winston-Lutz Fellowship in his and Dr. Winston’s honor.
As noted in a letter of nomination from one of Dr. Lutz’s former students, Paul Harari, MD, FASTRO, former president and chair of ASTRO, “We honor the history of our field by recognizing original contributors like Wendell Lutz who have devoted their career to innovation, device creation and quality teaching for the benefit of the field of radiation oncology and the cancer patients we serve.”
“As a medical physicist, being recognized by ASTRO astonishes me,” Dr. Lutz said. “This Gold Medal award is the highest recognition I have received. I am truly honored.”
Tim R. Williams, MD, FASTRO
Tim R. Williams, MD, FASTRO, has been a board-certified radiation oncologist for more than 30 years, and is also the Medical Director of South Florida Proton Therapy Institute (SFPTI). Before moving to the Palm Beach area, he was assistant professor of Radiation Oncology at The Bowman Gray School of Medicine at Wake Forest University.
As the first in his family to receive a college degree, Dr. Williams is a cum laude graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology (1978), received his MD from the Medical College of Georgia (1983), and took his residency at Shands Hospital at the University of Florida (1987). His original plan was to go into family medicine, but thanks to a spark in conversation with colleague Scott Gasiorek, MD, he was introduced to the field of radiation therapy. Dr. Gasiorek encouraged him to try a one-month rotation, and Dr. Williams discovered that he enjoyed the complexity of diagnostic radiology, the chance to make the diagnosis without invasive technology. He liked the idea of combining this science with the opportunity to have longer-term relationships with patients.
Dr. Williams is a long-time Palm Beach resident, joking that “they haven’t kicked him out yet.” His geographic commitment to one area is deceptive when considering his breadth of influence. For ASTRO alone, his contributions are many. In 2000, Dr. Williams was elected to the ASTRO Board of Directors as secretary, and in 2004, he became the senior editor of ASTROnews. Subsequently, in 2008, Dr. Williams was elected president of ASTRO. His presidential address entitled “Radiation Oncology 2020” set a positive tone for the meeting that year and for our specialty.
Dr. Williams’ contribution to the field is even more significant when considering the past decade, a time for significant growth in the safety culture for our field. In January 2010, the New York Times broke the story, “Radiation heals but also harms,” leading to numerous investigative articles hammering the specialty’s safety record. Dr. Williams’ leadership led to an ASTRO plan that focused on the safe administration of radiation therapy called “Target Safely.” And to those outside of the field, he successfully represented the specialty, testifying before Congress to reassure legislators that the specialty would collaborate to address the exposed shortcomings. As highlighted by colleagues in his nomination letter, “Target Safely holds our specialty in good stead to this day and gives us the blueprint from which we built a culture of safety for our specialty that imbues every part of our current practice and patient care.” Furthermore, his efforts set the stage for significant programs to emerge such as RO-ILS and APEx accreditation.
Alongside operating a full-time clinical practice and his leadership roles within ASTRO, Dr. Williams has also served many other organizations. He was chairman of the Board of Trustees of the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists, president of the Florida Radiological Society where he also received the Society’s Gold medal, was a member of the Council Steering Committee for the American College of Radiology, and currently serves as the medical director for the Radiation Therapy Technology training program at Broward College. Additionally, Dr. Williams is a founding member of the International Cancer Expert Corps, is a Research Affiliate Professor in the Department of Physics at Florida Atlantic University, and currently serves as chair of the ASTRO Corporate Relations Committee. He has also previously served as a member of the Advisory Board for Radiation Protection for the State of Florida Department of Health, member of the Board of Trustees for the Radiation Oncology Institute, and the ASTRO Health Policy Committee, the International Education Committee, and the Association of Residents in Radiation Oncology.
Dr. Williams recognizes radiation oncologists’ unique niche in the medical world as specialists who use powerful radiation beams to kill localized tumors. In his extensive career, he has seen the evolution of treatment planning systems to develop and improve the clinician’s ability to calculate dose intensity profiles in four dimensions, calculations that were once done manually for a single point dose. Looking ahead, Dr. Williams noted that the further increases in technical capabilities, including quantum computing, will provide even safer and more effective treatments.
Dr. Williams observed that the challenge to clinical care is balancing the time spent in the physics side of the office with time spent in the clinic offering comprehensive services, including both the problem-focused and holistic aspects of a case. Finally, medicine is a personal connection, and interaction with the patient is more important than the technical, computer-oriented effort.
When considering the team dynamics of his job, Dr. Williams mused, “The more I learn about radiation oncology, the more I learn about life. There is no way to practice successfully without relying on experts from different areas of training, including physics, dosimetry, nursing, technologist and administration.” Ever the visionary, he speculated, “I believe that in 10 to 20 years, the next generation of oncologists will exist more as a triad, acting as a team of specialists responsible for patient care, and a radiation oncologist, physicist, and tumor biologist will work together in the clinic to provide the best care possible. He can see a time where the clinician not only turns to the physicist for guidance in beam geometry, dose calculation and assessment of organs at risk, but he will also turn to a graduate level tumor biologist, who will offer guidance and insight as to the ongoing changes in the molecular profile and tumor micro-environment, allowing the physician to adjust the dose and fractionation scheme real time to offer higher control rates. “What an exciting time that will be for our specialty,” Dr. Williams said. “That day is coming sooner than many think,” he added.
When asked about the personal significance of the ASTRO Gold Medal, Dr. Williams reflected that he views himself as a simple community practitioner that has the privilege of coexisting among giants, “a sequoia forest of giants,” as he acknowledges the advances those who came before him pushed forward in the specialty. He is grateful to have treated over 13,000 patients over his 35-year career and feels honored to be a part of their journey. He has taken a sidestep recently and authored a book, “Tim’s World,” to be published in October. He enjoys outdoor adventures and recently completed a solo kayaking trip in the Canadian arctic.
Dr. Williams also wishes to acknowledge the inestimable help and assistance of Emine Ozbay, the executive director of his practice, who is one of many in his career who supported his endeavors, allowing him to be in this special place today. Certainly, it is this humility and acknowledgment of the team effort that has contributed to Dr. Williams’ incredible legacy.
Dr. Lutz and Dr. Williams will be honored on Tuesday, October 25, during the Annual Meeting Awards Ceremony in San Antonio.