Karolina Palucka leads JAX Cancer Center
By Joyce Dall'Acqua Peterson
Palucka specializes in human immunology with a focus on experimental immunotherapy, including vaccines that target cancer. Her career trajectory began in the early 1990s as a young cancer doctor in Warsaw, Poland, when she felt that the treatments available to her were insufficient to help her patients.
“I was using different combinations of chemotherapy and all the standard treatments,” she says, “but, in fact, I was not seeing progress. I was not seeing solutions.” She recalls one patient in particular, a woman in her thirties with advanced breast cancer. “She really tipped the balance because I couldn’t do much for her. I loved the patients and I think they loved me, but I just could not continue doing that.”
Palucka traded her doctor’s coat for a lab coat to explore how to exploit the immune system to fight cancer, but her commitment to cancer patients has never wavered.
An internationally recognized clinical oncologist and cancer immunologist, Palucka came to JAX in 2014 from the Baylor Institute for Immunology Research (BIIR) in Dallas, where she was the Michael A.E. Ramsay Chair for Cancer Immunology Research and director of the Ralph M. Steinman Center for Cancer Vaccines. She is the recipient of many honors including a Career Award for Important Contributions to Tumor Immunotherapy from the European Academy of Tumor Immunology.
In a 2013 interview in the journal Nature, Palucka described how she had treated the pancreatic cancer of Nobel prizewinner Ralph M. Steinman using dendritic cells—the very cells Steinman and colleagues had discovered. “Although we can’t say for sure that this treatment was responsible, Ralph survived for 4.5 years after his diagnosis—something that only around five percent of patients with this disease achieve,” she told the interviewer.
Among the nation’s cancer centers recognized by the National Cancer Institute, the JAX Cancer Center is one of only seven with a focus on basic research. The JAX research program, “Genetic models for precision cancer medicine,” combines multidisciplinary technical and computational expertise with the institution’s unique knowledge of mouse models and of human cancer genomics to identify precise therapeutic interventions to prevent and to treat cancers.
“I went into research to find novel solutions to help patients,” Palucka says. “Working with my talented, and passionate JAX Cancer Center colleagues will allow me to realize that dream.”