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The one hundred honoree: Suzanne L. Topalian, MD

Innovation Story

The one hundred honoree: Suzanne L. Topalian, MD

Mass General Giving

Suzanne Topalian, MD, has pioneered new avenues of scientific interest and clinical investigation in cancer immunology and helped establish immunotherapy as a treatment modality for cancer.

The physician-scientist currently leads the Melanoma Program at Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. Topalian’s basic studies of human anti-tumor immune responses set the foundation for the translational development of immunotherapies for melanoma and other cancers, including cancer vaccines, adoptive T cell transfer, and immune-modulating monoclonal antibodies.

Her early work established that cytolytic “killer” T lymphocytes in melanoma patients could specifically recognize tumor cells from the same patient. Later studies confirmed that tumors from different patients actually shared melanoma antigens, which led the way for the creation of melanoma vaccines. Dr. Topalian also studied the role of CD4+ “helper” T cells in human anti-tumor immune responses. She found that tumor-specific “helper” cells existed in patients with melanoma and other cancers.

Dr. Topalian’s current research focuses on the role that immune checkpoints such as PD-1 and PD-L1 play in inhibiting anti-tumor immunity, and how they can be targeted with cancer therapies. She’s also working on discovering biological markers that will predict how patients will respond to these treatments.

She has published more than 130 original research articles and reviews and is internationally recognized for her work.