WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Dr. Judah Folkman, who discovered that tumors generate their own network of tiny blood vessels to nourish themselves, has died at the age of 74, Harvard Medical School said on Tuesday.
Folkman’s work founded an entire branch of cancer research called anti-angiogenesis therapy. His theory was that if a tumor could be stopped from growing its own blood supply, it would wither and die.
The theory helped in the development of such drugs as Genentech’s Avastin and other targeted cancer therapies.
“This is (a) devastating loss to not only our hospital family, but the world at large,” Dr. James Mandell, president and chief executive officer of Children’s Hospital in Boston, where Folkman was based, said in a letter to staff.
“Dr. Folkman, founder and director of the Vascular Biology program, was a true visionary and scientific pioneer,” Mandell added.
“Because of Dr. Folkman’s vision, more than 10 new cancer drugs are currently on the market, and more than 1.2 million patients worldwide are now receiving anti-angiogenic therapy.”
Folkman was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1933 and graduated from Ohio State University in 1953. He earned his medical degree at Harvard Medical School in 1957 and stayed there for much of the rest of his career.
Folkman said he came up with his angiogenesis theories while serving as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy in the early 1960s, at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
He published his definitive paper in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1971. It took nearly a decade for the scientific community to accept his theories.
“I was there when he first began to present those ideas and they were shouted down by very famous people,” said Dr. David Nathan, president emeritus of Harvard’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Nathan said Folkman worked patiently and politely to battle critics of his angiogenesis theories.
“He was kind and he was decent and he was friendly always, even to his critics,” Nathan added in a telephone interview.
“Judah had the most creative mind, ceaselessly creative. You could not have a conversation with Judah without having him think of the problem in a different way. He was just bubbling over with new ideas in many areas,” Nathan said.
No cause of death was given. Folkman had a wife and daughter.
Editing by Will Dunham