2018 Pioneer: John Sampson

John Sampson—Robert H., M.D. and Gloria Wilkins professor of neurosurgery—has dedicated much of his work to combatting brain tumors by harnessing the power of the immune system.

In 2003, Sampson co-authored a study showing that a modified version of poliovirus could be effective in targeting cancer cells in the brain. After several experiments, Sampson appeared on CBS’ 60 Minutes in 2015, along with Matthias Gromeier, professor of neurosurgery and inventor of the genetically modified poliovirus, and other Duke collaborators involved in the successful clinical trials.

The therapy even showed promise for destroying glioblastoma, one of the deadliest forms of brain cancer. Because of this, the poliovirus treatment was awarded breakthrough status by the Food and Drug Administration, which expedites the approval process to make the treatment widely available.

When then-Vice President Joe Biden visited Duke in 2016 as part of his cancer moonshot initiative, Biden met with Sampson and Gromeier.

Currently, much of Sampson’s research is focused on developing a glioblastoma vaccine using dendritic cells, one component of the immune system. In April 2017, his lab published a paper exploring a new treatment that extended the mean survival time of glioblastoma patients from the typical 14.6 months to 41.1 months.

Sampson's presence at Duke is wide-ranging, as he serves as chair of the department of neurosurgery and also holds appointments in the departments of immunology, radiation oncology, pathology and orthopedic surgery. He is also a member of the Society of Neurological Surgeons and was named to the National Academy of Medicine in 2017.


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