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Alexandra Snyder Charen ’99 Speaks to Biology Students, Faculty

Alexandra Snyder Charen ’99, a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering, returned to Spence to deliver a presentation to Grade 11 biology students and faculty on “The Enemy Within: Training the Immune System Against Cancer.”

Dr. Charen specializes in caring for women with gynecologic cancers, including ovarian, cervical and endometrial cancer. “I am part of a multidisciplinary team of medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and surgeons who work together to give each woman the best possible treatment,” she said.

Thursday’s lecture focused on cancer and the immune system, expanding students’ classroom learning on cell function and growth. Dr. Charen defined cancer, describing its hallmarks and functionality. She then explained current research on immunotherapy, sharing both how and why it works as well as its promising and consistent results in patients. According to Dr. Charen, this type of treatment essentially “trains the immune system,” T cells in particular, to “stop the spread of cancer.” In other words, T cells are retrained to attack tumors.

Dr. Charen noted substantial work remains to be done, but optimism in terms of treatment and wider acceptance in the medical world have led to great progress. “Doing this work requires patience and a tremendous number of people, and we hope to return that generosity with results,” Dr. Charen added.

Dr. Charen also discussed her road to medical school and to receiving an MD degree as well as the sexism that still pervades the field. “There is room for improvement,” she said as she encouraged those interested to help shape its future landscape.
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