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Immunotherapy Researchers Receive Albany Med Prize

Three trailblazing immunotherapy researchers have won this year’s Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research. 

One of the largest prizes in medicine and science in the United States, the $500,000 award has been given annually since 2001 to “those who have altered the course of medical research.”

Doctors James Allison of the University of Texas, Carl June of the University of Pennsylvania, and Steven Rosenberg of the National Cancer Institute were recognized Wednesday at the Hilton Garden Inn for their “contributions to research that established immunotherapy as a revolutionary and effective method to treat cancer and other diseases along with their leadership in moving the field of immunotherapy forward.”

Rosenberg recalled a defining moment in his research that involved use of Interleukin 2 as an immune stimulant to encourage T-cells to divide. He previously had treated 66 patients, all of whom died of advanced cancer.   "It was only the 67th patient, when we modified the dosage regimen of Interleukin 2 along with cells that were created by Interleukin 2 in the laboratory, this is a 31-year-old naval commander, lieutenant commander, Linda Taylor, whose name is well-known, she encouraged me to use her name, who had widespread melanoma, had seen multiple doctors, had received Interferon, nothing had worked. She'd been sent home, one of her doctors suggested she travel around Europe in her remaining months, but we treated her and all of her cancer disappeared."

June said CRISPR technology has affected the development of immunotherapy. CRISPR researchers were awarded the Prize last year; CRISPR is a gene compiling system that edits DNA code.   "We actually have the only trial in the United States open right now where we're using CRISPR technology to make the T-Cells work better, and what we're doing is taking out the pd1 gene, which is what Jim Allison showed is what- is what is kind of the brakes and shuts down the immune system. And if you don't have pd1 in your whole body for a long time you might have a more, an overactive immune system, and we're testing if the core T cells will be more active without that, so it's really exciting to use the new technologies in with immunotherapy: the rate of change is incredible."

Allison says immunotherapy will take its place alongside more traditional treatments.    "A lot of people say 'is immunotherapy gonna replace chemotherapy or radiation,' and for some kinds of cancer it may very well, but I think that what we're gonna see is because these immunotherapies can work along with the other pillars, we're gonna se, you know, combinations of radiation and immunotherapy or chemotherapy."

June added as time goes forward there will be more scientific advances at ever-increasing rates as “personalized medicine” becomes the norm .  "Where this immunology can end up is at a sort of point-of-service, where the patient is in a hospital, you know the cells will then be engineered right there, so it's custom that way and ultrapersonalized in a way that medicine has never had to deal with, it makes more complex logistics, but it works. And so the engineering people will work on how cells can be grown at a, in a device, it's just like we do Red Cross has done blood transfusion at local hospitals, we'll have that same kind of services evolve."

The Albany Medical Center Prize was established in 2000 by the late Morris “Marty” Silverman. A $50 million gift commitment from the Marty and Dorothy Silverman Foundation provides for the prize to be awarded annually for 100 years.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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