For over 30 years, Michael Atkins, M.D., has treated patients with advanced melanoma and kidney cancers. He has spent his career developing new treatments for these diseases including various forms of immunotherapy.
The immune system is designed to fight bacteria, viruses, and other infections that it recognizes as foreign substances. Cancer is difficult to treat because many types of cancer cells are not properly recognized or effectively attacked by the immune system. They either evade detection by “hiding,” or they disrupt the immune system’s ability to successfully destroy the cancerous tissue.
“We are excited to see…the priceless ‘second lease on life’ that he is giving his patients.”
Atkins’ current preferred treatment approach stems the spread of cancer by using a powerful cocktail of two drugs, ipilimumab and nivolumab, to reactivate antitumor immunity. More than half of patients’ tumors shrink or disappear, and side effects are minimal.
“Immunotherapy has turned my melanoma clinic from a place of fear and suffering to a virtual travel agency as patients finish treatment and return to their pre-cancer lives,” shares Atkins. “Given a second chance at life, they are pursuing it with gusto, not only traveling the world and attending milestone family events they feared they would never live to see but also making meaningful contributions to their community and society as a whole.”
Atkins was installed as the Dr. Scholl Chair in Medical Oncology last year. At the ceremony he thanked Dan Mahaffee (C’09, MA’15), a director at the Dr. Scholl Foundation, for supporting his groundbreaking research.
“When I started in this field, the goal of oncology was to turn cancer into a chronic disease,” said Atkins at the event. “But with our advances over the past few years in immunotherapy, I believe we have the opportunity to make cancer a curable disease—here at Georgetown, around the world, and for the rest of time. And I couldn’t be more honored to hold a chair that allows me to keep working towards that goal.”
“The Dr. Scholl Foundation has always been proud to support work at the cutting-edge of health care and health research,” shares Mahaffee. “We are excited to see not only Dr. Atkins’s installation as the Dr. Scholl Chair at Georgetown, but also the amazing results of his research and the priceless ‘second lease on life’ that he is giving his patients.”