To look at Jim Allison, you wouldn’t immediately think that he’s a Nobel Prize-winning immunologist. He looks more like a harmonica player, which he is, too. In fact, you can occasionally catch him onstage playing with his longtime friend, Willie Nelson. But as a new feature-length documentary reveals, Jim Allison is actually the reason why certain people with melanoma have their lives back. Narrated by Woody Harrelson, Jim Allison: Breakthrough features interviews with Allison’s family, professors, reporters, and colleagues, as well as a cancer patient who tried every kind of therapy without any success—until she tried Allison’s breakthrough drug, Ipilimumab.
Allison was born in 1948 and grew up in Texas, the son of a housewife and doctor. His two older brothers called him “diamond-head” for how hardheaded he was, referring to a trait that eventually served in Allison’s favor as a scientist. When not wandering in the woods playing his harmonica, Allison played with a chemistry set in his garage, with encouragement from his father—having lost his mother to lymphoma when he was only 11 years old.
Jim Allison looks at T cells/ Courtesy Malinda AllisonAllison graduated high school at the tender age of 16, heading to the University of Texas in Austin to study biology. It was in college where he learned the importance of perseverance and developed an interest in T cells, which are a central part of the body’s immune response, carrying receptors that have the ability to zero in on a diseased cell and vanquish it. As Michael Curran, Assistant Professor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, says in the film, “[Allison] was the first one to actually purify the molecule by which T cells recognize everything.”
In 1974, Allison moved to San Diego to learn more about the …
Author: Tanja M. Laden / High Times