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January 14: Judah Folkman and Angiogenesis

January 14, 2014
i-0f6766ffc6a1bc0bda359ed19d60e0eb-folkmanMoses Judah Folkman, who became the youngest full professor at Harvard Medical School in history when he was appointed there in 1968, age 35, died at 74 on this date in 2008. Folkman founded the field of angiogenesis research, which investigates how tumors attracts blood vessels to nourish themselves. While still a student at Harvard Medical School, he developed one of the first pacemakers. He became chief surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital, and also directed the Children’s Hospital Boston Surgical Research Laboratories. In 1971, Folkman reported in the New England Journal of Medicine that all cancer tumors are angiogenesis-dependent, so that cutting off their capacity to build blood supply would be a likely way to combat cancer. Within a decade, his theory became widely accepted, and is now the theoretical underpinning for new treatments for many diseases, including macular degeneration and some metastatic cancers. In Cleveland, his city of birth, Folkman used to accompany his rabbi father on hospital visits, and by age 7, he was determined to be a doctor so he could offer more than words of comfort. (“In that case,” his father said, “you can be a rabbi-like doctor.”) Folkman was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and numerous other professional associations, the author of some 400 papers, and the recipient of many international prizes. “There is a fine line between persistence and obstinacy. I have come to realize the key is to choose a problem that is worth persistent effort.” —Judah Folkman