Folkman, Judah


Folkman, Judah
▪ 1999

      "If you have cancer and you are a mouse, we can take good care of you," remarked cancer researcher Judah Folkman in 1998. He was referring to a new treatment that he and his colleagues had discovered that completely eliminated essentially any type of cancerous tumour in mice. Folkman, however, was cautious about predictions regarding the success of the therapy in humans, since the path to a cure for cancer was strewn with once-promising treatments that had not proved effective.

      Folkman's findings were the result of nearly four decades of persistence to an idea. As a young navy surgeon, he began to investigate the relationship between the growth of malignant tumours and angiogenesis, the process of blood vessel development. He was intrigued by the fact that cancer does not progress from a small, harmless mass of cells to a large, deadly tumour unless tiny capillaries develop to provide each cancerous cell with the nutrients and oxygen necessary for its growth. Folkman started to search for factors that trigger angiogenesis in tumours, reasoning that if he could determine how blood vessel development begins, he might be able to halt it and thereby arrest tumour growth. Folkman and others found that tumours themselves produce substances that both stimulate and inhibit angiogenesis and that it is the balance between them that determines if and when the tumour grows. The substances that shrink tumours by limiting their blood supply and preventing new blood vessel growth are called angiogenesis inhibitors. One of them, called angiostatin, was isolated in 1994 by Michael O'Reilly, a researcher in Folkman's laboratory. Using angiostatin in combination with another angiogenesis inhibitor called endostatin, Folkman's team was able to eradicate any type of cancerous tumour in mice.

      Folkman was born Feb. 24, 1933, in Cleveland, Ohio. After graduating from Ohio State University (B.A., 1953), he entered Harvard Medical School (M.D., 1957). While at Harvard Folkman developed the first atrioventricular pacemaker, a discovery for which he won the first of many awards. He worked as an intern and assistant resident at Massachusetts General Hospital from 1957 to 1960, leaving to serve at the National Naval Medical Center. There he not only began his tumour-growth studies but also discovered, with David Long, a polymer that facilitated the sustained release of drugs that came to be used in implantable contraceptives. Folkman returned to his surgery residency at Massachusetts General in 1962. He became an instructor of surgery at Harvard three years later and associate director of the Sears Surgical Laboratory at Boston City Hospital a year after that. From 1967 to 1981 he served as surgeon in chief and chairman of the department of surgery at Children's Hospital Medical Center of Harvard, where he later became director of the surgical research laboratory. In 1981 Folkman resigned as pediatric surgeon to focus on angiogenesis research.

MARY JANE FRIEDRICH

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Universalium. 2010.

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