Local researcher included in Time's 100

April 30, 2010 8:09:16 AM PDT
A Houstonian on the Time magazine 100 list is a cancer researcher who's having great success with a cancer vaccine. He had never heard of the list, until he got an email. But even then, he wasn't sure it was real.

For 20 years, Dr. Larry Kwak has worked on a cancer vaccine against follicular lymphoma. And for years, he faced frustration.

"For a long, time cancer vaccines have met with some failure," Dr. Kwak said.

Now, the vaccine, which is made at M.D. Anderson, is finding success in this lab. They'll take a patient's tumor, add it to the vaccine, and they're finding it is lengthening survival in many patients. And for some, who had only months to live, it's given them 10 and 15 more years.

"It works by activating the patient's own immune system, and so in that way, it's very similar to a prevention vaccine," he said.

Dr. Kwak hopes his findings may be applicable to other cancers too. The vaccine has few side effects.

And for his work today, he was on the list of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world. He got the news in an e-mail.

"I thought first it was a hoax," he said. "I had a patient, who about 10 years ago during an especially difficult time, tell me that I'm an instrument of God. That's kept me focused and humble, and I'm not used to being recognized."

He says his kids too, keep him humble.

"They said, 'You probably just barely made it dad; you're probably number 100,'" he said jokingly.

The doubly humble scientist from Houston will rub shoulders with Mayor Annise Parker and President Obama at a Lincoln Center reception.


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