Dr. Allison's Step Towards a Cure

In: Texas Times Column   Posted 10/27/2018

Earlier this month, the esteemed 2018 Nobel Prize winners were announced from Stockholm, Sweden.  In accordance with Swedish scientist Alfred Nobel’s will, the Nobel Prize celebrates those who “have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind” within five fields: Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, and Peace.  Just a handful of exceptional men and women have been honored each year since 1901. 

This year, among the brilliant men and women honored from around the globe is Houston’s own Dr. Jim Allison.

Dr. Allison was shocked when he heard the news.  The boy who grew up in Alice, Texas – and who lost his mother and uncle to cancer at a young age – had been working to find alternative treatments to radiation and chemotherapy, but he never dreamed he’d one day make a groundbreaking discovery towards cancer’s cure that would merit a Nobel Prize. 

Through their research of T cells, Dr. Allison and Japanese immunologist Tasuku Honjo found a way to unleash a patient’s own immune system to fight against cancer cells.   

Now known as the Godfather of Cancer Immunotherapy, Dr. Allison has helped create drugs to treat common forms of cancer like melanoma, lung cancer, and Hodgkin's lymphoma.   

But don’t let Dr. Allison’s resounding success let you think it’s been easy.  “Science is a long and frustrating road,” he announced at a press conference.  “There’s no instant gratification… You’ve got to be comfortable with a lot of failures to get there.” 

Dr. Allison also acknowledges how critical teamwork is when it comes to medical research.  Without funding through the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) and private funding, he says many of the therapies that currently treat millions of cancer patients worldwide simply wouldn’t exist.   

Thanks to the perseverance and dedication of Dr. Allison and his team, scientists are one step closer to curing cancer.  And thanks to them, it’s not a question of if we will cure cancer, but when. 

I’m proud this discovery came from Texas.  But Dr. Allison is not the only Nobel Laureate from the Lone Star State.  There are at least 10 Nobel Laureates living in Texas today, and even more Texans who have been honored with Nobel Prizes since they were created more than a century ago.  

In 1946, former University of Texas professor Hermann J. Muller won a Nobel Prize for his research showing X-rays can cause genetic mutations, proving the danger of radiation for the first time. 

Jack Kilby, inventor of the handheld calculator and thermal printer, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2000 for building the first integrated circuit while working for Texas Instruments in 1958.  He then went on to teach electrical engineering at Texas A&M University. 

Just last year, University of Texas alum Michael W. Young won a Nobel Prize for his discovery of the gene that controls our biological clock, including processes like sleep and metabolism throughout the day.  

Each of these incredible discoveries, and many more being made each day at labs across our state, have pushed the needle forward on our understanding of the world we live in.  But there’s always more we can learn.  Thomas Edison once said, “When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this: you haven’t.”   

There’s so much more we can discover, and with science advancing at practically lighting speed thanks to minds like Dr. Allison’s, I know we’ll have more answers soon. 

I encourage all young boys and girls – from Alice, Texas, and all across our state – to look up at Dr. Allison and all of Texas’ Nobel Prize winners and know that whatever you set your mind to, the sky is the limit.