Dr. Johnson Shares Her Excitement About Roswell Park’s Future

President & CEO, Roswell Park
Friday, March 24, 2017 - 4:12pm

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Roswell Park is truly a jewel here in Western New York because it’s a cancer center that’s been around for over one hundred years. We were the very first cancer center in the world and one of the very first NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers. In other words, we have been on the cutting-edge of cancer care and cancer research for many, many years.

Rowell Park is exploding in growth, in excitement; we have so many great things to look forward to. One of my visions for the future is that our immunotherapy research and treatments will make us the go-to place for patients who wish to receive innovative cancer therapies.

Immunotherapy is an extremely exciting approach to cancer treatment. More than 20 years ago, researchers identified the immune system as the next horizon for cancer therapy because of its immense power in the human body. The immune system within all of us helps us fight off all kinds of diseases every day. If you didn’t have an active immune system, even something like influenza could kill you. But, your immune system recognizes that flu virus as foreign and reacts against it.

However, when there’s a tumor growing inside you, and your immune system doesn’t recognize it as foreign, why is that? It is foreign, it’s not you, but your immune system doesn’t fight it. It took us a long time to figure this answer out, and what we discovered is that it’s very similar to when a woman gets pregnant. She has a fetus growing inside of her that is foreign to her body, but the immune system (except in rare cases) does not fight it.

In the past 20 years, we’ve used these insights and observations to figure out more about the immune system and what makes it tick. Now we’re able to design therapies to activate your immune system in a very specific way, to be able to actually make it fight the cancer. Our hope is that someday we may even be able to, through vaccine approaches, prevent cancer.