M. Judah Folkman, 74; Research Raises Hopes of Cure for Cancer

Scientists believe that M. Judah Folkman's idea for fighting tumors could inspire a breakthrough.
Scientists believe that M. Judah Folkman's idea for fighting tumors could inspire a breakthrough. (By Jon Chase -- Harvard University Via Ap)
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By David Brown and Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, January 16, 2008

M. Judah Folkman, 74, a cancer scientist whose research led to the invention of a family of drugs that fight tumors by depriving them of their blood supply, died Jan. 14 at Denver International Airport after an apparent heart attack.

Dr. Folkman, a resident of Brookline, Mass., was en route to Vancouver for a lecture. At his death, he was director of the vascular biology program at Children's Hospital Boston. He also was a professor of pediatric surgery and of cell biology at Harvard Medical School.

Drugs based on Dr. Folkman's idea for fighting tumors are known as angiogenesis inhibitors, and he invented substances that promote and inhibit angiogenesis, or blood vessel growth.

His work has led other scientists and biotech companies to develop drugs now used to treat advanced cases of kidney, breast, colon and lung cancer. And his underlying idea of targeted biological therapy has expanded beyond blood to focus on other molecules that cancer cells use to thrive.

Dr. Folkman's strategy for fighting cancer has extended life by months but has not eliminated tumors. However, scientists believe the idea might lead to breakthroughs.

People who knew him spoke of his wide-ranging curiosity and his willingness to help other researchers.

Nancy E. Davidson, an oncologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital and president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, characterized Dr. Folkman's conversations as "going right to the point and thinking of practical applications."

James Doroshow, director of the Division of Cancer Treatment and Diagnosis at the National Cancer Institute, praised Dr. Folkman's ability to foster an atmosphere of constant scientific inquiry.

Dr. Folkman was trained as a surgeon and was chief of surgery at Children's Hospital Boston before leaving the operating room for full-time work in the laboratory in the early 1980s.

"He was completely inventive about surgical physiology or medical physiology," said David G. Nathan, president emeritus of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. "He wanted to know how things work in the body and was constantly thinking about the mechanisms of disease and the mechanisms of normal."

Moses Judah Folkman was born Feb. 24, 1933, in Cleveland, where he accompanied his father, a rabbi, on weekend visits to sick members of his congregation.

He said the impact of seeing the patients led him to a career in science. As a gift for his bar mitzvah, Dr. Folkman received an expensive microscope he had requested.

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