center profile: adam johnson, ph.d.

A friend of mine recently asked me if all the doctors at the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research were beautiful women (because of our recent profiles). Lest you think the Center is just an estrogen filled laboratory, we are pleased to introduce you to today to Adam Johnson. Adam is a Post-doctoral Research Fellow in Dr. Jensen’s lab at the Center. Thank you Adam for taking the time to tell us about your work!

adam photo

Adam Johnson, Ph.D.
Post-doctoral Research Fellow
Dr. Jensen’s Lab

Can you give us a brief summary of what your role is at the Center?  What do you do?

As a postdoctoral fellow I have worn many hats, but my main role at the Center focuses on developing strategies able to enhance the persistence and antitumor signals produced by T cells, powerful white blood cells with tumor killing capabilities, during therapy. There is a strong correlation between T cell persistence during therapy and antitumor activity. My goal is to keep T cells around long enough to find and destroy every last cancer cell. I am also working on projects focused on introducing “safety switches” into T cells as a means to ensure immunotherapy treatment remains safe for patients. While the key emphasis for my studies is on the treatment of embryonal brain tumors, such as medulloblastomas and ependymomas, my findings can be applied to multiple tumor types. My role as a post-doctoral research fellow involves is a lot of bench work, research planning, experimental design, teamwork and coffee.

Why or how did you get into this line of work?  What motivates you in your work at the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research?

Oddly enough, my first experience with translational research started in the same building that the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research is currently located. I worked for a small biotech company called Targeted Genetics whose focus was on the development of strategies to treat a number of diseases including cystic fibrosis, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer. I was a technician at the time and wanted to further develop my translational research repertoire so I decided to attend graduate school in the School of Molecular Biosciences at Washington State University. While in graduate school I focused my studies on engineering proteins for use in an alternative cancer treatment strategy called suicide gene therapy. After graduation, I knew that I would like to stay in the field of alternative cancer research and looked for a post-doctoral position with a close link between lab and clinical work. Dr. Jensen’s lab was a great fit for my interests. My main motivation is the knowledge that my work will develop into a clinically relevant treatment option for cancer patients.

What do you find most rewarding in regards to your work at the Center? What do you find most challenging?

Being in the cancer research field is a challenge in and of itself because cancer is quick and unrelenting while the development of clinically significant therapies takes time. But one of the most rewarding and comforting things is that the Center has a great research team that is equally unrelenting, highly motivated and extremely knowledgeable when it comes to fighting cancer. So we know that although what we do now takes time our research is poised to make a long lasting impact on the future of cancer therapies and will save lives.

What do you like to do when you aren’t at work?  How do you spend your free time?

I love to do anything outdoors like running, hiking, biking, camping or rock climbing. My most recent endeavor has been working my way up to biking around Lake Washington and as a treat for myself along the way I visit the Redhook Brewery. Other than that, I try to catch up on all the great TV shows or movies out there or read a book at my local bakery or coffee shop.