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The Making of Medicine

A Late Scientist’s Legacy

John Herr, PhD, was the head of our Center for Research in Contraceptive and Reproductive Health when I joined UVA. He was a lovely fellow, passionate about his work. Designed the first home male fertility test, SpermCheck, which you can find in drugstores across the country. He passed suddenly in 2016, but now, years later, some of his final work could open the door for much-needed new treatments for solid cancer tumors.

Prior to his death, Professor Herr had been working with our Dr. Craig Slingluff, a surgical oncologist, to investigate whether a discovery Professor Herr had made about a protein found in women's developing eggs, called SAS1B, could help treat cancer. In the years since, Dr. Slingluff has continued to pursue that line of research, and he has just published a new paper suggesting that the answer is yes.

The protein, he and his team found, is found on the surface of cancer cells but not on any of the healthy cells they tested. That means doctors may be able to target the protein with immune therapy.

Professor Herr's discovery, Dr. Slingluff's paper concludes, could lead to “broad and profound” new treatments for solid tumors such as melanoma and breast and lung cancer. Many of these solid cancers are very difficult to treat, so new options could be life-saving.

“John was very excited about this protein SAS1B to be a valuable new target on human cancers, and I am delighted that our findings together further support his hope to make such a difference,” Dr. Slingluff said. “Immune therapy is revolutionizing treatment of human cancers, but some cancers have been particularly resistant to immune therapy because of the lack of good targets on those cancers. We hope that this work that John Herr started will bring new hope to patients with those cancers.”

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