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A great Loss to Cancer Research Judah Folkman is dead

saluki Member Posts: 9
The New York Times

January 16, 2008
Judah Folkman, Researcher, Dies at 74

Dr. Judah Folkman, a path-breaking cancer researcher who faced years of skepticism before his ideas led to successful treatments, died Monday in Denver. He was 74.

The cause was apparently a heart attack, his wife, Paula Folkman, said Tuesday. Dr. Folkman died at the airport, where he was changing planes on the way to a conference in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Dr. Folkman, a professor at Harvard and director of the vascular biology program at Children’s Hospital Boston, is considered the father of the idea that tumors can be kept in check by choking off the supply of blood they need to grow.

The approach is now embodied in several successful cancer drugs, most notably Avastin, by Genentech.

“His vision and ideas literally changed the course of modern medicine,” said Dr. William Li, a former student of Dr. Folkman’s, who is president of the Angiogenesis Foundation, an organization that promotes the promise of Dr. Folkman’s approach. Angiogenesis refers to the formation of new blood vessels.

Dr. Folkman’s work created a frenzy in 1998 when a front-page article in The New York Times reported how two drugs he had developed had eradicated tumors in mice. The article quoted Dr. James Watson, a Nobel laureate for discovery of the structure of DNA, as saying, “Judah is going to cure cancer in two years.”

But some other scientists had trouble replicating Dr. Folkman’s results, and the biotechnology company with rights to the drugs gave up on them to save money after the drugs did not seem to work as well in people as in mice.

While an improved version of one of those drugs eventually won approval in China, the drugs on the American market that work by blocking tumor blood supply were developed by others, not by Dr. Folkman. But experts say those drugs might not exist but for Dr. Folkman’s work.

“The controversies are minor,” said Dr. David G. Nathan, president emeritus of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and a longtime colleague of Dr. Folkman’s. “The point is, he made the field.”

Moses Judah Folkman was born in Cleveland on Feb. 24, 1933, the son of a rabbi, and was raised in various places in the Midwest. He often told of how when he was about 7 he would sometimes accompany his father on visits to hospital patients.

The excitement of those visits one day emboldened young Judah to tell his father that he wanted to be a doctor instead of a rabbi. “So,” his father replied, “you can be a rabbi-like doctor.”

Many of his colleagues say that the charismatic Dr. Folkman achieved that, with legions of devoted students and patients.

“He had a list of patients who wanted information from him,” said Robert Cooke, the author of “Dr. Folkman’s War: Angiogenesis and the Struggle to Defeat Cancer.”

“Even when he was out of town,” Mr. Cooke said, “he called 10 a night.”

Dr. Folkman attended Ohio State University and then Harvard Medical School. Trained as a surgeon, he was chosen to be surgeon in chief at Children’s Hospital Boston in 1967, when he was 34. But he devoted much of his time to research.

While working for the Navy in 1960 on blood substitutes, Dr. Folkman began experimenting with tumors and found that all grew to the same size. He hypothesized that the tumors could not grow beyond a certain size without a blood supply and that tumors must have some mechanism to induce the formation of blood vessels. He published his research in 1971.

At first, Dr. Folkman was largely ignored by other researchers who focused on directly killing cancer cells.

But Dr. Folkman persisted and his ideas gradually gained support. A crucial moment came in the late 1980s when a scientist at the biotechnology company Genentech reported the discovery of vascular endothelial growth factor, a protein that spurs the formation of new blood vessels.

The company’s drug, Avastin, developed to block that protein, was approved for use in 2004.

Avastin and Lucentis, another Genentech drug, have also had great success in restoring vision to people with eye diseases characterized by leaky blood vessels in the back of the eye.

Still, even now there is some controversy. Rakesh Jain, professor of tumor biology at Harvard Medical School, maintains, for instance, that Avastin and the other drugs actually do not work by choking off the flow of blood to the tumor. Rather, he said, they help fix the leaky, twisty blood vessels that feed tumors, thereby improving the delivery of cancer-killing chemotherapy drugs.

In addition to his wife, Paula, whom he married in 1960, Dr. Folkman is survived by two daughters, Marjorie Folkman of Manhattan and Laura Folkman Steuer of Menlo Park, Calif.; a brother, David, of Hillsborough, Calif.; a sister, Joy Folkman Moss of Rochester, N.Y.; and one granddaughter.


  • snowyday
    snowyday Member Posts: 121
    edited January 2008

    Yes this is a great loss I saw it on the news last night and said a prayer of thanks for his contribution to cancer studies and cures.Pearl49

  • saluki
    saluki Member Posts: 9
    edited January 2008

    Pearl- My niece Tali was diagnosed with Ocular Melanoma at the age of nine.

    She went to all the top experts at University of Pa Hospital, Sloane Kettering and so many others---It had spread to the liver and Expert after Expert gave her three months to live.  Chemo does not work on Ocular Melanoma.All the Experts told my sister that they should take my niece home to die.

    The article with Judah Folkman on the cover of time had just come out.  Out of desperation my sister was able to talk to him and he told her of a medication with similar properties to the one he was working with on the mice--and that they were having some success with----That drug was Thalidomide---which today is routinely used in cancers like multiple myeloma.  In my niece's case it extended her young life by five very good years.- able to play with friends, go to school and be a joy to all who knew her.---Five years she would not have in a Cancer that is fiercely aggressive and always fatal once it spreads. (or at least that was the case at that time).

    He holds a special place in our hearts.

  • TenderIsOurMight
    TenderIsOurMight Member Posts: 55
    edited March 2008

    I read “Dr. Folkman’s War: Angiogenesis and the Struggle to Defeat Cancer" by Robert Cooke and have been following angiogenesis ever since. It's a fascinating book about another luminary in cancer research.

    Thank goodness the power of observation still plays a role in research: had Dr. Folkman not noticed that tumors all grew to about the same size, he may not have made the connection to a needed blood supply.

    Thank you for posting this, Saluki. It is a great loss of a great man, and a dedicated family to facilitate his love of cancer research. Amazing how individually touched your family was by him!

    My condolences to the Folkman family and his colleagues. May his work continue!


  • ravdeb
    ravdeb Member Posts: 277
    edited January 2008

    Thanks for sharing. The article was interesting but your own personal story fascinated me.

  • AnnNYC
    AnnNYC Member Posts: 236
    edited January 2008

    thanks for posting, ravdeb...

  • Hanna
    Hanna Member Posts: 228
    edited January 2008

     What a loss for the research community and cancer research.  Folkman's concepts were novel.  There is so much science yet to be discovered and it takes more than a high G.P.A., and high SAT/ACT scores to do it.  It takes a great mind that is also creative and on fire.  It takes courage to be a scientist.  It always has. 

    Creative scientific discoveries are all too often met with skepticism among the scientific community.  It takes great courage to become a scientist and to continue the pursuit of the answers we need to solve many scientific problems in our world.  I sincerely hope for an increase in the cooperation between all the scientific disciplines to solve the problem of cancer.  I hope for greater appreciation of the work scientists do - often for very little financial reimbursement.  The best of them do this work because they are driven to discover. 

    Dr. Judah Folkman was a scientist of great integrity, highly respected and will be sorely missed.

    ~ Hanna

  • nancyc
    nancyc Member Posts: 3
    edited September 2008

    I just saw this. Thanks for posting it. I babysat for Dr. Folkman when I was a nursing student at Childrens' Hospital in Boston, where he was the chief of surgery. He was a kind man, who took time to speak to me about my studies, and to really listen. I didn't know of his research at the time, but was amazed years later to see his pictue on the front page of Time magazine. His was a life well lived, and I've given tribute to him many times since I learned of his contribution to understanding the biology of cancer, and his untimely death.

  • pinoideae
    pinoideae Member Posts: 55
    edited September 2008

    A great mind, big heart, and a huge loss.