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Driving Breakthroughs in Cancer Research and Cell Therapy

Catherine Bollard, M.B.Ch.B., director of the Center for Cancer and Immunology at Children's National

It started with a seed planted by a high school friend’s cancer. The passion took root in Dr. Catherine Bollard after her friend died, not from her original cancer — Hodgkin’s lymphoma — but from a deadly leukemia caused by treatment.

Today, as Director of the Center for Cancer and Immunology Research at Children’s National Hospital, and an international leader in immunotherapy, Dr. Bollard uses her expertise to find safer, more effective treatments to improve patient care.

“I really wanted to develop new therapies, especially for children with cancer, that would only kill the cancer cell and not kill healthy cells or cause the devastating side effects that my friend suffered,” Dr. Bollard says.

She and her team lead the field in bringing one of these treatments to the clinic: human cell therapies. This novel approach trains a patient’s own immune cells to fight cancer, viruses and inflammatory diseases. The clinical trials for the therapies are delivering promising results to patients and hope to their families.

Children’s National is in a unique position to discover new and effective T-cell therapies. “What we do really could only be done here at Children's National because of this close-knit collaborative group we have here between the research centers and the clinical divisions,” Dr. Bollard says.

The possibilities are enormous. They include off-the-shelf, readily available treatments that attack several cancers; treatment of the virus that causes COVID-19 that will benefit immunosuppressed patients; and first line of treatment for some pediatric blood cancers, which would eliminate or reduce the need for chemotherapy.

While other victories lie ahead for Dr. Bollard, she’s grateful that the inspiration for her work has blossomed to help others. “I am happy to say that if my friend were diagnosed today, I do not believe she would have suffered the same fate.”