Article Content

MD Anderson Oncologist Named One of TIME's 100 Most Influential People

Jim Allison, PhD, Chair of Immunology at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, has been named to the 2017 TIME 100. His pivotal insight to attack cancer by treating the immune system instead of the tumor has revived cancer immunotherapy. His approach launched a completely new way to treat these diseases, improving patient outcomes and transforming the course of cancer research.


The TIME 100 list, now in its 14th year, recognizes the world's most influential individuals. "Each year, our TIME 100 list lets us step back and measure the forces that move us. ... One way or another, they each embody a breakthrough: they broke the rules, broke the record, broke the silence, broke the boundaries to reveal what we're capable of," noted TIME's Editor-in-Chief Nancy Gibbs.

Figure. No caption a... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. No caption available.
Jim Allison, PhD. Ji... - Click to enlarge in new windowJim Allison, PhD. Jim Allison, PhD

Allison's breakthrough, stemming from his basic science research, liberates the immune system to find and destroy cancer cells-immune checkpoint blockade. This new class of drugs is saving the lives of significant numbers of patients with a variety of advanced cancers.


"I'm grateful to TIME for recognizing the increasing importance of immunotherapy as a new pillar of cancer treatment," said Allison, who also is Executive Director of the Immunotherapy Platform at MD Anderson. "We're in the early days of successful cancer immunotherapy. Our next step is to extend these treatments to benefit more patients and our platform is intensely focused on making that a reality."


MD Anderson's Immunotherapy Platform analyzes blood samples and tumor biopsies taken before, during, and after treatment to better understand response and resistance to treatment. The platform is part of the institution's Moon Shots Program, which is designed to harness scientific knowledge and develop new technologies that will dramatically reduce cancer deaths through prevention, early detection, and treatment.


Allison's curiosity-driven research, funded in early days by NIH, led to a lifesaving treatment approved for six late-stage cancers and in hundreds of clinical trials for additional cancers and earlier stages of disease.


"It is important to note that immune checkpoint blockade came from understanding the basic science of the immune system," Allison said. "I didn't set out as a young scientist to develop cancer therapies, but to understand T cells, these amazing cells that travel our bodies to protect us from disease."


Allison's research in T cells began during his first stay at MD Anderson in the 1970s and '80s, extending to other institutions before Allison returned to MD Anderson in 2012 to establish the platform.


He was co-discoverer of the function of a protein on T cells that acts as a brake, shutting down immune response. His pivotal idea was to block the brake on the T cell, CTLA4, with an antibody, unleashing the T cells to attack. After demonstrating this approach in mouse models of human cancer, Allison advocated taking the approach to human clinical trials, which led to the development of ipilimumab.


After Allison's research and the development of ipilimumab created the field of checkpoint blockade, other drugs were developed to block another brake on T cells, PD1, which have been approved for melanoma; Hodgkin lymphoma; and lung, kidney, bladder, and head and neck cancers.


"The next challenge is to understand who benefits from treatment, who doesn't, and develop rational combination therapies to help those who don't," Allison said. "There are many possible combinations-with other immunotherapies, targeted therapies, chemotherapies, radiation-and basic science will be important to help us more efficiently sort out these options."


Allison holds the Vivian L Smith Distinguished Chair in Immunology and is Director of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at MD Anderson.


Vanderbilt Oncologist Named to Leadership Post With ASCI

W. Kimryn Rathmell, MD, PhD, Director of the Division of Hematology/Oncology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tenn., has been named Vice President of The American Society for Clinical Investigation (ASCI).


Rathmell, who is the Cornelius Abernathy Craig Professor of Medicine, will serve a 4-year term, initially as Vice President, then President-Elect in 2018, President in 2019, and Immediate Past President of ASCI in 2020.

W. Kimryn Rathmell, ... - Click to enlarge in new windowW. Kimryn Rathmell, MD, PhD. W. Kimryn Rathmell, MD, PhD

ASCI is an honor society of physician-scientists. Founded in 1908, ASCI is home to nearly 3,000 members from the upper ranks of academic medicine and industry. Rathmell's new leadership role was announced during the ASCI annual conference, held April 21-23 in Chicago.


"I am delighted by the opportunity to serve this community of exceptional physician-scientists. I view my role as raising the visibility of this career path to allow for increased engagement of physician-scientists at all levels in the national conversation around biomedical research training, funding, and translation to the benefit of human health," Rathmell said.


Rathmell was elected to ASCI in 2011 and has served on the organization's Council as Secretary-Treasurer, and as an Associate Editor of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, the society's flagship journal.


Rathmell's research focuses on the genetic and molecular signals that drive renal cell carcinomas, which affect more than 60,000 new patients annually in the U.S. She specializes in the treatment of patients with rare and complex kidney cancers as well as hereditary kidney cancer syndromes. Her research program includes basic mechanisms of cancer, innovative imaging strategies, and novel therapeutics.


In her current research, Rathmell and colleagues have identified factors that are critical to transitions in the progression of kidney cancer. She also has led or participated in a number of the Cancer Genome Atlas projects.


Rathmell is passionate about the training of translational scientists, having served a variety of educational roles in her prior position at the University of North Carolina and now at Vanderbilt as the Co-Director of the Oncology K12 program and a faculty mentor for the Vanderbilt Medical Scientist Training Program. She has been awarded a federal K24 grant for mentoring trainees in patient-oriented research.


She has received the Award for Outstanding Achievement at the 14th World Congress on Cancer, the American Association for Cancer Research Landon INNOVATOR Award for Personalized Medicine, the ASCO Leadership Development Award, and the Doris Duke Clinical Scientist Development Award.


ASCO Selects 2017-2018 Health Policy Fellows

ASCO recently announced Alexander Chin, MD, MBA, and Joanna C. Yang, MD, have been selected for the 2017-2018 ASCO Health Policy Fellowship program, now entering its second year.


The fellowship, aimed at early career oncologists, provides the skills necessary to monitor and shape the regulatory and legislative policies that directly affect patients with cancer and the oncology practice environment. The program runs from July 1, 2017, to July 1, 2018.

Alexander Chin, MD, ... - Click to enlarge in new windowAlexander Chin, MD, MBA. Alexander Chin, MD, MBA
Joanna C. Yang, MD. ... - Click to enlarge in new windowJoanna C. Yang, MD. Joanna C. Yang, MD

"Dr. Chin and Dr. Yang both know that oncologists need to understand the health policy issues that fundamentally affect oncologists, our practices, and most importantly, our patients," said ASCO President Daniel F. Hayes, MD, FACP, FASCO. "This fellowship offers them an opportunity to gain in-depth experience so they can develop the skills they need to not just understand, but really shape cancer policy in a way that will improve cancer research and care delivery. We're eager to have them add their insights and experience to ASCO's policy and advocacy work."


Chin is a Resident Physician in the Department of Radiation Oncology for Stanford Health Care at Stanford University in California, where he has sought opportunities to advance value-based innovation in health care. As one of the founding members of the Specialty Drug Sub-Committee at Stanford Health Care, he assists in the evaluation of new, high-cost drug therapies in oncology, hematology, and neurology using clinical outcome, safety, and cost-effectiveness analyses.


He is also actively involved in the early stages of developing and implementing oncology clinical pathways at Stanford, with the goal of establishing metrics to measure quality and to prepare the institution for alternative payment models, while standardizing high-quality care.


Yang is a Radiation Oncology Resident at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, where her research with the institution's Center for Health Policy & Outcomes focuses on comparative effectiveness and cost-effectiveness analyses, aimed at quantitatively comparing treatment options to produce the most high-quality, high-value outcomes for patients. She also serves as one of six elected members of the Association of Residents in Radiation Oncology, the resident component of the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO), and is a Resident Representative for ASTRO's Health Policy Committee.


"ASCO's Health Policy Fellowship has been a boot camp in cancer policy that has exposed me to a multitude of interest areas including policy writing and advocacy," said current fellow Robert M. Daly, MD, MBA. "The program has also helped me accomplish my goal of learning how cancer policy is made and how oncologists can influence it."


The ASCO Health Policy Fellowship program has several components:


* active participation in policy development for high-impact issues in oncology;


* small-group teaching sessions delivered by ASCO staff and qualified volunteers on topics such as the Congressional authorization/appropriations process, FDA organization and regulatory authority, drug and device approval processes, and payment reform initiatives;


* training in communication and leadership skills, as well as advocacy strategies; and


* a mentored research project on one of nine preselected topics that advances or leverages an ASCO policy initiative.



Clinician-Researcher to Lead New Bone Marrow Transplantation Initiative

Hematologist-oncologist Ahmad Samer Al-Homsi, MD, MBA, will lead a new bone marrow transplantation program at NYU Langone's Perlmutter Cancer Center for treating blood-borne cancers, including leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma, and potentially utilize transplantation as an adjunct to immunotherapy for solid tumors. He also will investigate ways to reduce graft-versus-host disease (GVHD).


In addition, Al-Homsi will facilitate NYU Langone's collaboration with Johns Hopkins School of Medicine to institute haploidentical transplantation at Perlmutter Cancer Center, in which less perfectly matched individuals can serve as donors. The advent of haplo-transplantation at Perlmutter Cancer Center will vastly expand the potential donor pool for patients who require a transplant.

Ahmad Samer Al-Homsi... - Click to enlarge in new windowAhmad Samer Al-Homsi, MD, MBA. Ahmad Samer Al-Homsi, MD, MBA

Al-Homsi, who officially joins NYU Langone June 1, 2017, most recently co-founded the blood and bone marrow transplantation program at Spectrum Health, a major multi-site health system in West Michigan.


Prior to joining Spectrum, he was Chief of the Division of Hematologic Malignancies & Blood and Marrow Transplantation and Director of the stem cell laboratory at Roger Williams Medical Center in Providence, R.I., an academic affiliate of Boston University School of Medicine. Al-Homsi also directed the blood and marrow transplantation program and held several clinical and academic posts at the University of Massachusetts and its affiliated medical center.


Al-Homsi's has led clinical trials examining innovative combinations of medications to prevent GvHD, including cyclophosphamide and proteasome inhibitors. Such combinations can omit the need for extended and burdensome prophylactic traditional agents and are applicable to patients with limited kidney function who are often denied blood and marrow transplantation.


At Perlmutter Cancer Center, Al-Homsi will work closely with a strong hematology-oncology team that has made important advances in the study and treatment of blood-borne cancers. Patients requiring bone marrow transplantation undergo their treatment at the medical center's Rita J. and Stanley H. Bone Stem Cell/Bone Marrow Transplant Center.


"Our understanding of hematologic malignancies has advanced greatly over the past decade, to the point that many cases are curable," said Benjamin G. Neel, MD, PhD, Director of Perlmutter Cancer Center. "Bone marrow transplantation plays a critical role in these advances, but it doesn't come without risk. Dr. Al-Homsi's research holds tremendous promise to curtail negative interactions between host and transplanted cells and make this form of treatment safer and more effective."


Johns Hopkins Doctors Elected to Association of American Physicians

Two Johns Hopkins cancer researchers were elected to the Association of American Physicians (AAP) at the annual meeting of the organization April 21-23 in Chicago.


AAP is a nonprofit, professional organization whose goals include the pursuit of medical knowledge and the advancement through experimentation and discovery of basic and clinical science and their application to clinical medicine.


Each year, individuals who have attained excellence in achieving these goals are nominated for membership by the Council of the Association. Their election gives them the opportunity to share their scientific discoveries and contributions with their colleagues at the annual meeting. Johns Hopkins electees to the association, include the following physicians.


Stephen B. Baylin, MD, is the Virginia and D.K. Ludwig Professor of Oncology and Medicine, Co-Director of the Cancer Biology Division and Associate Director for Research Programs of the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, Baltimore. His research interests include cellular biology and genetics of cancer, specifically epigenetics or genetic modifications other than those in DNA that can affect cell behavior, and silencing of tumor suppressor genes and tumor progression. Baylin's research has looked at the mechanisms through which variations in tumor cells derive, and cell differentiation in cancers such as medullary thyroid carcinoma and small cell lung carcinoma.


Frank Giardiello, MD, is the Johns G. Rangos Sr. Professor of Medicine, Program Director for the Gastrointestinal Fellowship, and Director of the Johns Hopkins Colorectal Cancer Registry and Risk Assessment Clinic. He served for 9 years as the Director of the Division of Gastroenterology at The Johns Hopkins University.

Stephen B. Baylin, M... - Click to enlarge in new windowStephen B. Baylin, MD. Stephen B. Baylin, MD

Giardiello's clinical and research interests have focused on the study of cancer and cancer chemoprevention in the gastrointestinal tract. This has included the investigation of the genetic basis of familial colorectal cancer and the use of genetic testing in the hereditary forms of colorectal cancer. He also has an interest in the study of the genotypic phenotypic correlations in the polyposis syndromes, which include familial adenomatous polyposis, juvenile polyposis, and Peutz-Jeghers syndrome.

Frank Giardiello, MD... - Click to enlarge in new windowFrank Giardiello, MD. Frank Giardiello, MD

Share Your News!

Send information and photos for this column to