Home » Dr. Catherine Bollard takes center stage in fighting disease
October 2006 – Baylor College of Medicine From the Laboratories
By Ruth SoRelle, M.P.H.
The world of opera’s loss was medical science’s – and particularly Baylor College of Medicine’s – gain when Catherine M. Bollard, M.D., chose the clinic and laboratory over the stage.
“At age 15, I was told I had a unique and dramatic soprano singing voice,” said Bollard, a researcher at Texas Children’s Cancer Center and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine. “When I was 18, I was awarded a scholarship to study opera singing in Australia.”
She was also accepted to medical school. In the end, she chose medical school. However, she stayed active in music, singing in local and national opera competitions. After receiving her medical degree from Otago University in New Zealand, she received a grant from Rudolf Piernay at the Royal Guildhall in London to continue her pursuit of a musical career.
“Rudolf was encouraging me to give up medicine and become a professional opera singer,” said Bollard. “I came very close to taking him up on it.”
However, a job with a pediatric oncologist (cancer expert) at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London set her course. She loved music, but within a few weeks, she knew her true passion was medicine.
“It was heart wrenching to give up music, but it is a decision I have never regretted,” Bollard said.
Dr. Catherine Bollard came to Texas Children’s Hospital in 2000 to work in the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy with Helen Heslop, M.D., and Cliona Rooney, Ph.D., both ground-breaking translational scientists who excel in taking treatments from the laboratory to the clinic. In her first 18 months, the laboratory techniques she learned led her to complete a study to generate and administer special immune system agents called T-cells that seek out and kill cells infected with the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV).
“The experience I gained from this work helped me develop improved immunotherapeutic techniques to treat Hodgkin’s and other potentially immunogenic tumors,” Bollard said. “This is important because in up to 40 percent of patients, EBV hides from the immune system inside the cancer.”
Dr. Bollard is also researching ways of using gene therapy to treat cancer and other viruses in patients who have undergone a transplant.
“Besides EBV, we are also looking at CMV (cytomegalovirus) and adenovirus, which are viruses carried by the majority of people,” said Bollard. “In bone marrow transplant patients, we take blood from the donor, train the T-cells to kill the viruses, and implant them in the transplant patient to prevent or treat the viral infection. So far, the process seems to be working.”
Dr. Bollard believes this work is highly relevant in the field of cancer because over the last decade alone, biological therapies, either alone or with other treatments, have started to have a positive impact on patients. She was recently awarded a Kimmel Scholar Award that will allow her to explore other technologies to improve immunotherapy. The Sidney Kimmel Foundation for Cancer Research gives the awards to young researchers in order to encourage them to participate in cancer research.
She also plans to open another clinical trial for patients with very far-advanced Hodgkin’s disease.
“The results from this study may not only improve treatment of this specific condition, but also will also help in the treatment of other cancers using immunotherapy approaches,” Dr. Bollard said.