Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Judah Folkman's Contribution to Medicine

Today's news says that Judah Folkman dies at 74. His story is important in many ways, including how a scientist can be caught up in cancer politics. He remained steady and respected through it all.

Read more at The New York Times: says Folkman was a path-breaking cancer researcher who faced years of skepticism before his ideas led to successful treatments. 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.