Researcher Spotlight: Dr. John T. Wilson

Giving Patients “A Lot of Reason to Hope”

At KidneyCAN, we have the pleasure of meeting and working with talented researchers from all over the world. We want to share some of the insights and experiences of one such researcher today, Dr. John T. Wilson, who is an Associate Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Vanderbilt University.

Tell us about your research. What prompted you to focus on kidney cancer? 

“A significant part of my research program is focused on developing new strategies to enhance response rates to cancer immunotherapy. To do this, we work at the interface of molecular engineering and immunology to innovate new therapeutics and technologies that engage and activate the immune system to more effectively combat cancers.

“Since the immune system plays a critical role in many cancer types, we evaluate our strategies in several different tumor models, but kidney cancer is one of the cancers that we are the most interested in and where we think we have potential to make big impacts. Kidney cancer was amongst the first to be treated with immunotherapy and there is clear evidence that the immune system, if properly activated and directed, can be potently harnessed to combat some types of kidney cancer. However, despite the success of immunotherapy in kidney cancer, there is still much room for improvement and so we are very interested in developing new therapeutics that may allow us to take the next step in improving immunotherapy outcomes. Additionally, Vanderbilt is home to several renowned researchers and oncologists who specialize in kidney cancer, which creates an ideal environment for collaborations between engineers, basic scientists, and clinicians to advance a common goal of developing new treatments for kidney cancer.”

What is one tip or bit of advice you would give to someone newly diagnosed with kidney cancer?

Having lost several family members and friends to cancer in recent years, I guess my advice would be to live each day fully, without fear or reservation, and as your truest self, knowing that each day there is progress being made towards a cure. Hope can be a powerful medicine, and there is a lot of reason for hope in kidney cancer research right now.”

What made you decide to advocate for kidney cancer research funding?

“Kidney cancer research, and really all types of cancer research, are underfunded, particularly when one considers that cancer research funding yields an excellent return on investment. Funding cancer research will lead to the next big breakthrough, and, without it, the negative impact on discovery and innovation is devastating to progress towards a cure. Federal funding has been absolutely critical to our efforts in kidney cancer research, and so I feel a strong obligation to help however I can to advocate for continued and accelerated funding of kidney cancer research.”

“I think about the people close to me that have been lost to cancer and try to appreciate that even on a really bad day that perhaps I made some small impact through research or teaching.”
– Dr. Wilson, Vanderbilt University

What would you like clinicians and researchers to know about the KCRP award process and how these High Risk/High Reward programs impact patients?

“The KCRP is a fantastic program that is willing to fund big and riskier ideas with potential for immediate impact.”

What is something that motivates or inspires you on harder days?

“I just try to keep perspective. Odds are whatever I’m going through on a hard day isn’t really that hard; I think about how many people are going through much, much harder times. I also think about the people close to me that have been lost to cancer and try to appreciate that even on a really bad day that perhaps I made some small impact through research or teaching.”

Dr. Wilson, age 42, lives in Tennessee with his wife, Mary, pictured with him here on a trip to Ireland. His hobbies include mountain biking, watching sports, and enjoying restaurants. 

Thank you, Dr. Wilson, for sharing your story with us, and thank you for the work you do on behalf of the kidney cancer community!

To learn more about advocating for kidney cancer research and to register to join us for District Days in August, click here