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Setting a Prime Example: Wistar’s Women & Science Program featuring Dr. Elizabeth Jaffee

September 19, 2022

As attendees tuned into their screens, Dr. Elizabeth Jaffee began her presentation Pancreatic Cancer Is PRIMED to Become an Immunologic Disease. With a full house of Zoomers, the Deputy Director of The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine discussed her cutting-edge research to develop immune-based therapies for pancreatic cancer at Wistar’s most recent Women & Science event.

Jaffee’s passion for science began with her inspirational 4th grade math teacher and later in her youth by reading Marie Curie’s biography. The seemingly endless scientific opportunities of the early days of the U.S.’s space race also played a role in her career choice. “I think today is just like when I was growing up – the opportunities in science are endless, particularly in biomedical research with the recent technological revolution. It’s a very exciting time in history.”

During her college years, Jaffee became increasingly focused on vaccines, which led to her current work developing pancreatic cancer treatments. She explains that with a high recurrence rate, increasing mortality, late diagnosis with no specific early symptoms, and high-risk populations, pancreatic cancer is an ideal model for studying immune resistance.

Jaffee developed a vaccine that operates by inserting a gene into tumor cells to express signals that attract the immune system and induce a response from T cells. However, tumors protect themselves from the immune system by inactivating T cell response. Antibodies can be designed to enhance a suppressed T cell response, and thus underpins the second step in Jaffee’s emerging immunotherapy strategy. By first inducing T cell activity with vaccines and then optimizing T cell function with antibodies, Jaffee hopes to intercept and eliminate cancers at the earliest stage before they develop immune resistance.

With the advancement of molecular and sequencing technologies, Jaffee is looking at developing immunotherapies specific to cancer patients. “We are at a time where we can personalize treatments for patients,” she shared.

Dr. Jaffee earned her M.D. from New York Medical College. She is currently a principal investigator at John Hopkins University, chair of President Biden’s Presidential Cancer Advisory Panel, and holds six vaccine patents. The presentation concluded with a Q&A session led by Amelia Escolano, Ph.D. and Jessie Villanueva, Ph.D., the scientific advisors for the Women & Science program.

Learn more about Wistar’s Women & Science Program.