In Memoriam: Judah Folkman, MD (1933-2008)
The Breast Cancer Research Foundation mourns the sudden passing of Judah Folkman, MD. One of our most highly esteemed and long-standing grantees, Dr. Folkman died on Monday, January 14, at the age of 74, at an airport while traveling between lectures. He was a renowned Harvard researcher whose early observation that tumors have the ability to hijack the body's blood supply led to the theory of therapeutic anti-angiogenesis, which paved the way for a new class of drugs used in cancer and macular degeneration treatments.
"There is no part of Judah's career that is not remarkable, even legendary," said Dr. Larry Norton, Scientific Director of BCRF. "His creative insight, his perseverance, his scientific thoroughness, his focus on the interaction between the clinic and the laboratory, his teaching and lecturing skill, his ability to inspire, and-most of all-his humanity have had a profound influence on oncology that will continue to motivate advances for many years to come. One always had the feeling that in spite of his great achievements that the best was yet to come. It is our job to continue his mission."
Dr. Folkman, a brilliant and dedicated scientist, and keynote speaker in The Breast Cancer Research Foundation's annual symposium just months ago, in October 2007, first received funding from BCRF when he was awarded the prestigious Jill Rose Award in 1997 for outstanding contributions to breast cancer research. BCRF has continued to support his groundbreaking research since that time.
Known for his graciousness and generosity, Folkman started off as a pediatric surgeon at Children's Hospital in Boston while he slowly built up his research lab. Early experiments as a U.S. Navy physician suggested that cancer cells required a dedicated blood supply. In the early 1990s, Folkman was widely recognized and lauded for his research on angiogenesis, but it wasn't always easy for him. Only his wife, Paula, and a handful of colleagues initially supported his 1971 publication in The New England Journal of Medicine hypothesizing that cancers can chemically re-route blood vessels to do their destructive bidding.
While his contributions to understanding angiogenesis led to more than a dozen anti-angiogenesis drugs now approved by the FDA, Folkman told attendees at the BCRF annual public symposium on October 16 that the most exciting news in the field is that he and other scientists are now studying ways to coax the body's own chemistry into naturally putting the brakes on tumor angiogenesis.
Dr. Folkman was a compassionate, warm and wonderful friend to all who knew him, and he will be profoundly missed by everyone at BCRF. We extend heartfelt sympathy to his family.