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Alice native Jim Allison wins Nobel Prize in cancer research

Posted at 10:08 AM, Oct 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-01 13:28:47-04

Jim Allison’s Texas roots never are far away from him.

Allison, an Alice native who graduated from Alice High School at the age of 16, was awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine Monday. His pioneering research that has led to a new type of cancer treatment that frees the immune system to attack tumors.

Apart from his prowess as a scientist, the self-avowed “child of the 1960s” is one of the scientific world’s most colorful characters. He was rebellious enough to battle high school teachers who taught creationism. But he was also a musical savant who played the harmonica well enough that Willie Nelson has brought him onstage to join his band and once was a member of Clay Baker’s band before opting for a career as a scientist.

The Houston Chronicle reported in a 2016 profile that Allison was the son of a country doctor whose career path he originally planned to duplicate. But his interest in science and immunology was cemented by several events early in his life.

At 11, he lost his mother to lymphoma. Two of his uncles died of cancer — one of melanoma and another of lung cancer. Later, his brother passed away from prostrate cancer and a cousin to ovarian cancer. It made him determined to find another treatment option that chemotherapy and radiation.

Allison, 70, MD Anderson’s Cancer Center’s chairman of immunology, earned the Nobel Prize for ground-breaking research. He conducted investigations leading to a class of drugs that unleash immune system brakes. That work helped develop the field of immunotherapy, which is growing as a treatment against cancer alongside with chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.

Allison will be honored at Nobel ceremonies in Stockholm in December.