Hearing his name and seeing his picture on the big screen as the winner of the biennial Sanford Lorraine Cross Award is quite a thrill for Carl June, M.D.
“It was unbelievable. It was something I’ll never forget,” Dr. June said.
The renowned immunologist and oncologist says the special ceremony on April 13, hosted by Sanford Health, is one of the first get-togethers he and wife Lisa have attended in a year.
“It was an amazing event,” Dr. June said. “It was like a dream.”
The dream comes with a significant prize. Sanford Health is the only health system in the country to present a $1 million award for achievements in the medical sciences.
“An unbelievable day for us and I think a new era for society in general,” Dr. June said.
The value of the immune system
During the pandemic, Dr. June says the public has learned the value of the immune system in ways they never knew.
Specifically with his team’s work, Dr. June says, “The immune system can be used to treat cancer.”
The winner of the Sanford Lorraine Cross Award, Dr. June, with colleagues Dr. Bruce Levine, the Barbara and Edward Netter Professor in Cancer Gene Therapy in the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, Dr. James Riley, a Professor of Microbiology, and Dr. Michael Milone, an Associate Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, were able to reprogram selected T-cells to recognize and destroy leukemia cancer cells.
Their work was later translated into the clinic to treat adult and pediatric patients with research collaborators David Porter, M.D., the Jodi Fisher Horowitz Professor in Leukemia Care Excellence and director of Cell Therapy and Transplantation in Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center, and Stephan A. Grupp, M.D., Ph.D., section chief of the Cellular Therapy and Transplant Section at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
This therapy is KYMRIAH by Novartis. It’s FDA approved to treat patients with relapsed or refractory acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
“There was no short road getting here,” Dr. June said.
Taking years of research to find success, many times, he wanted to quit.
“It gives me validation and Lisa who put up with me the times it didn’t work. The times I wasn’t at the soccer game. I wish I could have been. It gives validation to my team,” Dr. June said.
Sharing the award with his team
Dr. June credits the team back in Philadelphia for making everything happen behind the scenes. He promises they will benefit from this award as well.
“It’s going to benefit our team, our trials and so we’re so grateful for Sanford making this possible,” Dr. June said.
Moving forward, Dr. June says it’s important to educate the public about advancements in medical sciences.
“I just want to say to young people, they’re privileged to live in a time that’s unprecedented. The rate of change, the technology makes things possible that were just dreams a generation ago,” Dr. June said.
He’s encouraging anyone curious about science, like he is, to follow their passion.
“You can contribute in ways you never would have thought possible,” Dr. June said.
Joining the Sanford Lorraine Cross Award legacy
Being a Sanford Lorraine Cross Award winner is something he’ll cherish moving forward.
“A great legacy and I’m so blessed with Lisa to be a part of this,” Dr. June said.
The goal is to maximize the benefit of this honor. He plans to dive deeper into the idea of synthetic immune systems to find new ways to make a difference.
“My legacy will be hopefully that I was kind and worked hard and was lucky to be rewarded in my life. That is more than anyone can ever expect,”Dr. June said. “There’s so many people that have done great things and they didn’t live long enough to see them happen. In my case, I was able to witness it. I’ve been blessed beyond belief and I’m really thankful for that. Every day is a gift.”
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