By Sara Bondell - November 09, 2020
Hwu brings with him not only a strong scientific foundation, but also a vision deeply rooted in compassionate and creative patient care.
Here are five things you need to know about him:
He studied under the world leader in immunology.
Early in his career, Hwu worked at the National Cancer Institute with Dr. Steven Rosenberg, the pioneer of immunotherapies and gene therapies for cancer patients. They focused on training T cells, which play a critical role in the immune system, to recognize and attack cancer cells. Their work in the early 1990s laid the foundation for treatment options used today like CAR T-cell therapy.
Hwu was then recruited to become the leader of the Melanoma Program at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Over the past 17 years, he served as the chair of the Department of Sarcoma Medical Oncology, co-director of the Center for Cancer Immunotherapy and most recently the division head of Cancer Medicine.
He’s in a band.
Hwu works to cure cancer by day, but by night he jams on his keyboard. He is a member of The CheckPoints, a band comprised of cancer physicians and researchers from across the country. It’s named for a type of immunotherapy treatment that removes immune cells’ brakes — or checkpoints — and enables them to attack cancer. The CheckPoints are the house band for the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer and play to hundreds at the scientific conferences.
Hwu got his start on the keys in elementary school, and it wasn’t long before he ditched his classical training for rock ’n’ roll and learned to play “Come Sail Away” by Styx. He has been in a band ever since and is looking forward to starting a new one at Moffitt.
Cancer impacted his childhood.
Hwu’s parents, who both emigrated from China, raised their four children in St. Albans, West Virginia. When one of Hwu’s teachers and a classmate were both diagnosed with leukemia, they had to travel out of state for treatment because the small town’s hospital didn’t have the resources. Later in life, both of his parents would become cancer survivors. Surrounded by cancer, Hwu recognized the need for new cutting-edge therapies and more places to receive treatment.
He is a big family man.
Hwu’s wife, Katie, is a nurse. They have two grown daughters, Emily and Ally, and a 14-year-old bichon frise named Maisy. Maisy was diagnosed with mucosal melanoma four years ago and received a melanoma vaccine approved for pets designed by the tuba player in The CheckPoints. Today, she is cancer free.
While quarantining during the COVID-19 pandemic together, Hwu’s daughters asked him to make appearances in videos on the social media app TikTok. He agreed, convinced no one would ever see them.
One video has racked up over 1 million views.
He has big plans for Moffitt.
Moffitt is a familiar place to Hwu. He first came to the cancer center in the early 2000s to deliver a Grand Rounds lecture, and has been a member of Moffitt’s Scientific Advisory Board since 2012. As Moffitt’s new leader, he wants to give patients the best possible care while pushing the boundaries of research to continuously bring new ideas from the bench to the beside. His goal is to reduce cancer-related deaths and better study cancer prevention methods, relying on hard work and collaboration to make Moffitt the top comprehensive cancer center.