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A Different Way of Looking

"Each tumor has an Achilles' heel ... our job is to figure out what that is."

By Kellie Vinal

The new Winship Center for Cancer Immunology, directed by immunobiologist Madhav Dhodapkar, aims to integrate basic science research, clinical trials, and immune-based therapies to guide the field forward.

Previously, says Dhodapkar, it wasn’t clear whether the immune system had anything to do with cancer. Now, with the majority of newly approved cancer drugs and active clinical trials centering on immune-based therapies, the proof of principle has been achieved.

“Cancer is a very complex disease,” says Dhodapkar, the Anise McDaniel Brock Chair and Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Cancer Innovation and professor in hematology and medical oncology at Emory. “In retrospect, it should not be a surprise that to tackle a complex, adapting disease you need a complex, adaptive system.”

An expert in the treatment of multiple myeloma, Dhodapkar came to Emory last year from Yale Cancer Center, where he was co-director of the Cancer Immunology Program. Between Winship’s team of experts, the new cancer immunology center and Phase I Clinical Trials Unit, and a cell therapy facility currently in the works, Emory is aiming to make important advances in cellular immunotherapy.

“Each tumor has an Achilles’ heel from the perspective of the immune system,” Dhodapkar says. “Our job is to figure out what that is and to target it, as opposed to taking a one-size-fits-all approach. It requires a different way of looking at patients, as well as resources and infrastructure devoted to better understanding the immune system.” (See related story on immunotherapy.)

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