Looking at this band photograph you could be excused for saying there was nothing too unusual about the middle-aged guy blowing up a storm with his harmonica.
You would be wrong. As well as being a red-hot player with the US Checkpoint group, James Allison is also a Nobel Prize winner in medicine for his pioneering work in developing a new way to fight cancer.
The rock and blues-loving scientist identified the first molecular brake that protects cancers from destruction by the immune system’s T cells. That molecular brake is now transforming cancer treatment in the form of drugs known as checkpoint inhibitors, so called because they remove the immune system’s natural blockade.
Many cancer patients diagnosed with melanoma, colon, liver, lung, breast, cervical and bladder cancers are alive and kicking today because of the checkpoint inhibitors that Allison helped develop. And he is not finished yet. Prostate and ovarian cancers are harder to treat with inhibitors so he is continuing his work to combine different immune-based drugs against these more stubborn diseases.
Brought up in Texas, the son of a country doctor and future Nobel Prize winner lost his mother to cancer when he was just eleven years old. Around that time he also lost two uncles to cancer and, later, his brother.“My mother’s death when I was young hit me hard. I didn’t realise how hard until later on and I guess doing something about cancer was always there in my mind,” he said recently.
It would take several decades of stubborn dedication for him to understand why T cells could actually bind with and take out cancer cells. What Allison did was to identify the first molecular brake that protects cancers from destruction by the immune system’s T cells. That molecular brake is now transforming cancer treatment in the form of drugs known as checkpoint inhibitors, so called because they remove the immune system’s natural blockade. God bless him and his work and may his harmonica and band always have plenty of gigs.