Jason Howard, a University of Virginia graduate who has lived in Catonsville for eight years, was one of five finalists for a Rangos Award for creative ways to treat and cure metastic cancer. (Photo courtesy of Johns Hopkins Medicine / March 22, 2013)

  • Related

Last week, Catonsville resident Jason Howard reaped the rewards for his theory on how to treat and cure cancer.

Now he and his co-workers are hoping the notoriety will mean a boost for their cause.

Howard was awarded $25,000 on April 3 from the Rangos Family Foundation for his theoretical proposal to reconfigure the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine in a way that would use the body's own immune system to fight off cancerous cells.

The 32-year-old Massachusetts native was the first place winner of the second annual Johns Hopkins Rangos Awards, which challenge Johns Hopkins Medical School students, physicians and scientists to come up with a creative way to treat and cure metastatic cancer.

"The problem is, when you get a (cancerous) tumor, 99.9 percent is you," Howard said on the fact that most of a cancerous tumor is made up of a body's own cells.

Howard suggested that there might be a way to extract proteins out of a tumor, link them with the HPV vaccine then reinject them into the body so that it would provoke the immune system into attacking the cancerous proteins.

"My proposal was to convert these tumors into something that your body would recognize as not yourself," he said.

Dr. Christine Chung is the director of the Head and Neck Cancer Theraputics Program at Johns Hopkins Cancer Center and Howard's boss in the Department of Oncology at Hopkins.

She said that if a company that owns the patent for the vaccine is willing to cooperate, Howard's idea is definitely feasible for creating a viable cancer treatment.

"He has gotten his award money, that's for himself, that's for Jason," Chung said

"But there's no research funding," she said.

"We're hoping that this Rangos Award will give some credibility to Jason," she said.

She said that if the lab could obtain funding, it would be able to start applying the theory to real-world situations.

"If at some point we can generate enthusiasm ... certainly we would like to inititate the study and start generating some preliminary data," Chung said.

Howard, a postdoctoral fellow in the Head and Neck Therapeutics Program in the oncology department, said he hopes the award will bring attention and funding to his lab in order to make the theory a reality.

"I talked to some of the people who were there (at the award ceremony) and they all thought it was a really feasible idea," Howard said.

"These are the first people who tell you whether it's going to work or not," he said.

He said that, at this point, he would need funding to apply his ideas in a real-life setting.

"If someone thinks it's a good enough idea to invest time and money into, I would certainly be willing to investigate it," Howard said. "It's all possible."

Theoretical challenge reaps real rewards