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AACR Academy welcomes new fellows

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Freireich, Allison recognized for lifesaving innovations

By Scott Merville

One is a physician who pioneered cancer drug combinations to treat cancer. Another is a basic scientist who found a new way to treat cancer with the immune system. Both have been elected fellows of the American Association for Cancer Research Academy.

Emil J. Freireich, M.D.

 Emil J. Freireich, M.D.

Emil Freireich holds the Ruth Harriet Ainsworth Chair in Developmental Therapeutics and is a distinguished teaching professor, director of the Adult Leukemia Research Program and director of the Special Medical Education Programs.

At the National Cancer Institute in the late 1950s, Freireich’s revolutionary approach to treating childhood leukemia reversed previous bleak survival prospects and led to today’s 85% survival rate. He was the first to separate platelets from donated blood, allowing direct treatment of young patients who often bled to death due to low platelet counts. In the 1960s, Freireich moved to MD Anderson, where he extended combination treatment to adult patients.

Jim Allison, Ph.D.

 Jim Allison, Ph.D.

Jim Allison is chair of Immunology, executive director of the Moon Shots Program immunotherapy platform and deputy director of the David H. Koch Center for Applied Research of Genitourinary Cancers. He holds the Vivian L. Smith Distinguished Chair in Immunology.

Allison’s basic science discoveries led to the development of the immune checkpoint blockade treatment strategy. Allison showed that the CTLA-4 molecule on T cells turns off immune response. He developed an antibody that unleashes T cell attack on cancer by blocking this immune checkpoint. The finding led to the first drug to extend the survival of stage 4 melanoma patients and is now applied to all cancers.

“Dr. Allison’s passion for discovery illuminated the biology of T cells in the finest tradition of basic science research, leading to an entirely new approach to treating cancer,” says Ethan Dmitrovsky, M.D., MD Anderson provost and executive vice president. “Dr. Freireich’s dedication inspired bold innovations in clinical care that have saved the lives of countless men, women and children. We’re proud that they’ve been recognized with election to the AACR Academy.”

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