How two doctors use research to advance the medical field

Pioneering new avenues of cancer treatment with Allison Fitzgerald (M’23, G’23)

Dr. Alison Fitzgerald (M’23, G’23) was 12 years old when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.

As a child, Fitzgerald didn’t know how to handle the family’s health crisis and remembers how he would happily eat ice cream and cookies for dinner while his mother was bedridden with chemotherapy.

Fitzgerald has a Ph.D. A cap with some festive balloons.
For the past eight years, Alison Fitzgerald (M’23, G’23) has studied in a dual degree program leading to her M.D. and Ph.D. Originally from Georgetown.

But seeing her family stricken with cancer at an early age spurred a deeper desire to learn more about the disease that would go on to shape Fitzgerald’s trajectory.

“Watching her go through chemotherapy at a very formative time in my life when I’m trying to figure out what the world is like and what I’m going to do is just a reminder of what’s going on. It was a way to learn more about what happened and why it happened so that future people don’t have to go through what my mom went through,” Fitzgerald said.

pave the way for medicine

What started as a breakthrough national geographic A science article in middle school inspired me to take as many science classes as possible in high school. Fitzgerald also attended a science camp at the state-of-the-art Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island.

After studying biochemistry at the University of Colorado as a first-generation college student, Fitzgerald became a research technician at the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center. It was in the Boston lab that Mr. Fitzgerald saw a medical oncologist working with him. He is a cancer researcher. She recognizes how doctors and researchers each bring their own set of skills and perspectives to any research question, and they often disagree about the best way forward.

She wanted to live in the worlds of both conducting research and treating cancer patients.

“Being a practicing doctor is great because you can make a big difference in the lives of your patients, but you see a limited number of patients,” she says. “As a scientist, hopefully we can advance our understanding of the disease, thereby helping far more people than we can help as a practicing doctor.”

Advances in pancreatic cancer research

For the past eight years, Fitzgerald has been working towards his medical doctorate and Ph.D. Also in Georgetown. She chose Georgetown to work with doctors and researchers. Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

It took the better part of a decade to earn her two degrees, but Fitzgerald didn’t have to walk across the graduation stage to start making a difference in oncology.

Fitzgerald in the lab.
For his doctoral dissertation, Fitzgerald experimented with new immunotherapies to treat pancreatic cancer. Her research contributed to a clinical trial that is currently enrolling patients.

Fitzgerald has studied pancreatic cancer and how to treat it with new immunotherapies, treatments that activate the patient’s own immune system to fight cancer cells. She has worked with a renowned immunotherapy researcher, Dr. Louis Wienerreceived the award for the doctoral dissertation of Dr. Shangzi Wang, director of Georgetown, Lombardy.

“The great promise of immunotherapy is that if you change a patient’s immune system to recognize cancer cells, in many patients that immune system is permanently altered,” said Fitzgerald. “No other type of cancer treatment typically offers such long-term sustainable treatment without the need for additional treatments. That is why immunotherapy is a major advance in the cancer world and This is an incredible achievement.”

Mr. Fitzgerald stands in front of a balloon with a sign indicating a suitable place to live.
Fitzgerald is heading to Boston for an internal medicine residency at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Because pancreatic cancer is often detected very late, it is responsible for a disproportionately high number of cancer deaths. 3rd leading cause of death from cancer in the United States. Pancreatic cancer is also notoriously difficult to treat because the cancerous tumor is surrounded by a tough shell of scar tissue. Fitzgerald and her colleagues have worked to develop new immunotherapies that can penetrate scar tissue and introduce the patient’s own immune cells to fight cancer cells.

Fitzgerald realized something when experiments demonstrated that her immunotherapy treatment allowed mice already cured of pancreatic cancer to resist new invading pancreatic cancer cells. Confident.

“It was very exciting, like, ‘Wow, if this can induce the same kind of immune response in patients, it might actually make a lot of sense in humans.’ [moment]’ said Fitzgerald.

Ms. Fitzgerald stands outside with her parents.
Fitzgerald and his parents at the graduation ceremony.

In February, her research helped design a clinical trial that is now enrolling patients with pancreatic cancer. Fitzgerald hopes the treatment will bring a sliver of hope to patients who have exhausted all other treatments.

Fitzgerald’s mother is now healthy and cancer-free. She was able to see her daughter walk across the stage at her opening ceremony. Fitzgerald begins his internal medicine residency at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, pushing the boundaries of oncology in the lab while treating patients in the clinic to bring hope to all those afflicted with cancer. I am passionate about doing it.

“To have such a big impact on a patient’s life and to be able to see patients for so many years is a much more positive field than people think,” Fitzgerald said. “When people think of cancer, many people immediately think of very sad things, but many people with cancer are doing very well. It’s really great to be part of.”

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