By Jonesa Rodriguez - May 27, 2021
Each year, Moffitt Cancer Center host its annual Faculty Appreciation and Recognition Ceremony, where they highlight faculty members for their outstanding achievements across the cancer center. Fifteen awards are given to those who raise the bar of science at Moffitt, furthering its mission to contribute to the prevention and cure of cancer.
The top award, the W. Jackson Pledger Researcher of the Year, is given to a research faculty member who has made outstanding contributions to the understanding of cancer through innovative research.
This year’s W. Jackson Pledger Researcher of the Year award recipient is Dr. Jose Conejo-Garcia.
In 2016, Conejo-Garcia joined Moffitt to lead the Department of Immunology and co-lead the Immuno-Oncology Program, which he says has been a remarkably positive experience. The goal of his research program is to identify and target mechanisms governing the balance between immunosuppression and protective immunity in the tumor microenvironment, with an emphasis on the role of cancer-driven pathological myelopoiesis.
This year, he was recognized for not only being a thought leader in his field but for his efforts to push the envelope on the insight of immune surveillance and understand how to manipulate the immune system and translate the work into the clinic.
Conejo- Garcia says he feels highly honored winning an award of such magnitude.
“We have hundreds of investigators and some of the best talent in the nation. Being recognized by this talented cohort of colleagues is a humbling but heartening experience,” he said. “It is very rewarding but makes you conscious of keeping the level that their respect deserves. Overall, my colleagues and I in my laboratory feel encouraged to continue the hard work and keep making discoveries on the immunobiology of cancer.”
Conejo-Garcia says he became a researcher at Moffitt for two reasons. First, the opportunity to translate discoveries from inception in his laboratory into clinical testing in collaboration with some of the top physicians at the institution. Secondly, he’s obtained a chance to recruit other immuno-oncologists to forge the department of his dreams with strong institutional support.
Over the years, he has authored 154 publications in peer review journals, with his latest work being a novel immune checkpoint inhibitory pathway that is already being targeted in clinical trials.
For him, being a researcher is not a hobby but more of a passion.
“You do not spend six days per week pursuing a band in a gel if you are not passionate about the implications of that result. For professional academic scientists, this is not a hobby. It’s a way of life around which the rest of our life circles,” said Conejo-Garcia.
During the appreciation and recognition ceremony, he was also awarded the Top Publication Award Basic Science and the Team Publication Award.