Hale Family Recognized for Unprecedented Support of Pancreatic Cancer Research

February 26, 2024

From left: Charles Fuchs, MD, MPH; Rob Hale; Karen Hale; Laurie H. Glimcher, MD; Judy Hale; Brian Wolpin, MD, MPH; Elizabeth Hale Kendall; Richard Kendall; Josh Bekenstein; and Andrew Aguirre, MD, PhD.

Fittingly, just as Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month kicked off, friends, family, faculty, and staff gathered in the Dana building on Nov. 2, to honor a family whose decades of steadfast support for pancreatic cancer research has driven the field forward.  

Judy Hale, her children Rob and Beth, and their spouses Karen and Rich were recognized with The Sidney Farber Medical Research Award (SFMRA), the Insitute’s highest honor, enshrining the family among a cadre of groups and individuals who been pivotal to the progress of cancer research and treatment around the world. 

Brian Wolpin, MD, MPH, who has seen the Hale family’s impact firsthand as the director of the Hale Family Center for Pancreatic Research Center which they helped to start, told the Hales that he and his colleagues have been looking forward to the opportunity to recognize them for years. “You have radically changed our lives here, and the lives of patients all over the world,” Wolpin said. 

The generous legacies of Judy Hale and the late Bob Hale Sr. — who passed after being treated for pancreatic cancer at Dana-Farber — go deep. The couple has a long history of giving, beginning in 2007 when they made their first major gift to establish the Robert T. Hale Sr. and Judith B. Hale Fund for Pancreatic Research. 

The establishment of Dana-Farber’s Hale Family Center for Pancreatic Cancer followed shortly thereafter. Since then, the two state-of-the-art centers have grown rapidly and now operate with 100 multi-disciplinary researchers, clinical staff, and providers across 13 laboratories under the direction of Wolpin. Their contributions to the field of pancreatic cancer research and care are unmatched. 

Because of Hale Family Center led genetic studies, it is now recommended that all patients with a new diagnosis of pancreatic cancer undergo inherited genetic testing and tumor DNA sequencing. The same team has also contributed to the first targeted drug approval for patients with pancreatic cancer, discovered a new gene for inherited pancreatic cancer from studies of pancreatic cancer-prone families, and completed the most comprehensive map of the pancreatic cancer immune microenvironment documented to-date. 

But Wolpin said he and his team are driven by more than research accolades because of Judy Hale’s “crystal-clear focus” of what the research will do for patients. “That’s the soul of our center here,” he said. “It’s about patients first. Judy reminds us of that, and it’s part of the secret of why we do so well and have made so much progress.” 

Bob Hale Sr.’s memory loomed large and gave the award ceremony an emotional heft. Judy Hale, who spoke with two generations of Hales in the audience, thanked Dana-Farber faculty for their work in unraveling the mysteries of pancreatic cancer, but more importantly for the care they provide which she witnessed firsthand. “It gives me comfort to this day that Bob knew that his family was going to fight back,” she said. “I am sure that once pancreatic cancer is no more. The Hale Center will have been a leading voice in that victory.” 

Bob Sr.’s son, Rob, also spoke about his father’s treatment at Dana-Farber, which showed him something beyond the world-class technical know-how at the Institute. “That’s table stakes at Dana-Farber, I expect that of you. But you create that familial environment, that warmth, and that hope,” he told the faculty and staff gathered. “And please continue to do that.” 

Established in 1968 in appreciation of the contributions Sidney Farber, MD, made to medicine and cancer care, the SFMRA is presented to individuals or groups who have made outstanding contributions to the field of cancer, either through research or public service. Recognizing the Hales was an obvious choice. 

“I can’t imagine a family who deserves this honor more,” President and CEO, Laurie Glimcher, MD, said. 

“The kind of groundbreaking research that’s done here can only be done with the kind of generosity that the Hales have shown,” Chairman of the Board, Josh Bekenstein added. “And that obviously is a benefit to our patients, but more importantly, it helps everyone in the world.”


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