“My passion is to prevent cancer because nobody should have the experience of hearing the words, ‘You have cancer.’”
Olivera Finn, PhD, considers herself an optimist by nature. That trait has served her well throughout her career in cancer research.
A pioneer in cancer immunology, Dr. Finn works every day not just to cure cancer, but to prevent it.
“My passion is to prevent cancer because nobody should have the experience of hearing the words, ‘You have cancer,’” says Dr. Finn, director of Immunology at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center and chair and professor of the Department of Immunology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
In the early part of her career, Dr. Finn worked with researchers who discovered groundbreaking therapies for treating and curing cancer. She dedicated her own research to the fledgling field of cancer immunology – using the body’s immune system to prevent and cure cancer.
“Everything that you learned about the immune system, even as early as I was learning about it, tells you that there’s great power that it has,” Dr. Finn says. “Not only does it have the power to reject the tumor today, but it keeps its memory. There’s a powerful biology that you really need to take advantage of for such a serious problem.”
In 1993, Dr. Finn helped launch a clinical trial of a cancer vaccine that used parts of the body’s immune system to fight the disease. The trial used discoveries she and her team had made in the lab. She has run many clinical trials over the years to prevent and cure various forms of cancer.
Dr. Finn continues to strive every day to reach her goal of preventing cancer. She believes it will happen one day, even if it’s not in her lifetime.
“You have to have passion, but you have to have a very strong sense of optimism,” she says. “Pessimists don’t stay in science. Everything we do is delayed gratification; but when it comes, it is what you dreamt about.”
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