In Memoriam - Dr. Judah Folkman

Friday, January 25, 2008
I was saddened to learn yesterday that Dr. Judah Folkman died last week of a heart attack.

For those who have never heard of him, Dr. Folkman was the father of angiogenesis research. Angiogenesis is a physiological process involving the growth of new blood vessels from pre-existing vessels, and Dr. Folkman believed that cancerous tumors required this process in order to grow.

When he first proposed this idea in the 1970's, he was roundly pooh-poohed by the scientific community, with scientists "laughing in the corner" or excusing themselves to go to the restroom when he would speak at scientific meetings. His science eventually won over his critics, and today angiogenesis has spawned an entire field of research, and has led to additional treatment options for cancer patients.

I heard of Dr. Folkman by watching a Nova program on his work in 2001. While I've never met the man, and have no opinion on him as an individual, people who have report that he is humble, courteous and gracious. And very, very persistent. A perfect example of an innovative idea, initially dismissed, proven to be correct by rigorous scientific experimentation.

Dr. Folkman once said, "You have to think ahead. Science goes where you imagine it." Thank goodness for Dr. Folkman's imagination. He will be missed.

16 comments:

John the Scientist said...

Lots of companies working on angiogenesis for oncology and opthamology. I'm sorry to hear he died, becuse they don't give the Nobel posthumously.

Janiece Murphy said...

John, I had read that some people believed he should of been given the Nobel. I didn't mention it, though, because I am supremely unqualified to judge his work as it compares to others'.

Why don't they give the Nobel posthumously? Do you know?

John the Scientist said...

No, I don't. My best guess was that it was Alfred's intent to further sceince with the prize - remember at the time there was little public funding off science. So why give money to a dead guy's heirs?

Janiece Murphy said...

That makes sense to me.

Jeri said...

This is where our society is tremendously out of balance.

The death of a prominent anti-cancer researcher gets almost no press or public grief - and the death of a self-destructive drug-addicted actor is splashed all over the headlines for days.

Really, what do actors contribute to our society that is intrinsically valuable & unique?

Janiece Murphy said...

Jeri, I agree. While I'm sorry that Heath Ledger is dead, and I feel badly for his family, I think Dr. Folkman's death is a bigger deal for our human family.

Jeri said...

In retrospect, that sounded really callous. It is sad when anyone dies... their nearest and dearest mourn and it leaves a hole in the universe.

However, my comments on the media and our cultural imbalance re: the entertainnment industry still apply. ;)

Anne C. said...

I don't think it's necessary to denigrate Heath Ledger's death in order to raise up Dr. Folkman's. HL is essentially a storyteller, who brought the character of a gay cowboy to life. I don't think it's out of line to say he affected how people thought of themselves or about gay stereotypes. That's not completely without merit. Dr. Folkman's contribution to humanity has stretched the boundaries and assumptions of science and that's wonderfully meritorious.
I definitely agree though that it's unfortunate that the media doesn't treat both deaths with proportional emphasis. That's the screwy thing about demand-driven media.
(I haven't seen anything about HL being a drug-addict, only that he was taking medication for anxiety and insomnia, and that his death appears to be accidental. I however am woefully behind on info, since I dislike how the media disseminates information. Put River Pheonix's name in there though, and Jeri's sentiment stands scrutiny with no problem.)

Janiece Murphy said...

Anne, I don't think anyone's denigrating HL's death or indicating that he wasn't accomplished in his craft. My own comments are simply to say that we need to get some perspective.

I believe there's a place for both art and science, and one (actors) shouldn't be elevated so much more than the other (scientists).

Does that make sense?

Anne C. said...

Yes, it makes perfect sense. I agree completely. :)

Jeri said...

I should point out, because I like playing devil's advocate, that I didn't actually mention Heath Ledger in my comments. I just said "self-destructive, drug-addicted actor". That could apply to any number of folks in that industry, unfortunately.

Hmm... I wonder what the incidence is of self-destructive, drug addicted personalities in the science field vs. the entertainment industry? ;)

Although - I'd imagine most driven researchers are obsessive & tremendous workaholics, and probably possess his/her own quirks and challenges.

MWT said...

Of the PhDs around me that have a deep passion for their work, it's a way of life. I wouldn't apply the term "obsessive workaholic" to it because that's not really how it is at all. They're doing something that they truly enjoy, all the time. An "obsessive workaholic" is what I'd call someone who is doing it to make as much money as possible, or using their work as a substitute for something else in life. The deeply passionate scientists aren't doing it for money and aren't escaping life - they're doing it because they care, and it IS life.

John the Scientist said...

Although - I'd imagine most driven researchers are obsessive & tremendous workaholics, and probably possess his/her own quirks and challenges."

Oh yes. And I'm living proof. I'd like to think that some of my larger quirks have been smoothed out by cross-training as a businessman, and all the attendant compromises that training forces on the geek mentality. Maybe I'm fooling myself.

I used to have a series of posts on this very topic on my now defunct personal blog. I'll dig them out and repost them on Refugees.

Scientists generally aren't doing it for the money (although the successful ones are very firmly in the upper middle class - figure a $100K salary for 9 months plus perqs plus summer salary from grants, plus awards and speakers fees). But prestige and showing someone else whose mental genitalia is bigger often comes into play in their motivation. While making many of them miserable human beings, it's how science works. If everyone were nicey-nicey, ideas would not get challenged quickly enough and groupthink would take over. The progress of science depends on its practitioners being peckerheads.

When I started grad school, an older grad student told me that personality-wise, all advisors start in the lower 50% of humanity and work their way down. With very few exceptions, he was right.

MWT said...

Hmmm... either I've been astoundingly lucky with the people I've worked with, or biology/geology in general aren't as vicious as chemistry/physics. My advisors and employers were/are all quite excellent people. The miserable wretches have been exceptions rather than the rule.

Janiece Murphy said...

I think I'm glad engineering and science are really seperate disciplines.

Having to consistantly work around "peckerheads" would probably make me cranky.

And I think the money's probably better in my field, as well, at least based on educational level, experience, etc. That's one of the reasons I work in sales, in spite of my supreme dislike of professional sales people.

An expensive ho', that's me.

John the Scientist said...

Up to the Ph.D. level, Engineering pays a lot better than science. A B.Sc. in Chemistry is like a pre-med degree - largely useless if you don't go on to higher levels.