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Medicine: Kudos for Clinicians

4 minute read

Few awards for medical research carry the prestige of those bestowed by the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation, which normally honors two scientists each year. Last week the foundation broke with its own tradition. At a ceremony in Manhattan, it passed out kudos to 16 doctors from the U.S., Britain and Africa, all for their work in chemotherapy, drug treatment, of cancer.

One reason for selecting the 16 was ideological. Mary Lasker, the widow of the millionaire adman who established the foundation, has long urged that basic cancer research be more widely applied to clinical practice. She has also encouraged further investigative research into newer areas of cancer therapy. This year’s prizes recognize scientists who have practiced the Lasker philosophy. “Too many physicians and laymen still think of treating cancer only in terms of surgery and radiation,” she said. “We wished to point up the progress in treating some forms of cancer with chemicals as well.”

Thus a special award of $5,000 went to Dr. C. Gordon Zubrod, director of the division of cancer treatment at the National Cancer Institute, for leadership in creating “an effective national cancer chemotherapy program.” The others went to physicians who have achieved significant results against several forms of the disease. These include:

SKIN CANCER. Dr. Edmund Klein of Roswell Park Memorial Institute in Buffalo has succeeded, in the course of experimental work, in apparently curing up to 95% of 500 patients with superficial skin tumors. He applies anti-cancer ointments to the skin lesions. By similar means, Dr. Eugene Van Scott of Temple University in Philadelphia has produced regressions during the past four years in half of 75 patients with mycosis fungoides, a cancer that starts on the skin. The therapy proved effective when the disease was limited to the skin and when treatment was begun prior to lymph-node involvement.

GESTATIONAL CHORIOCARCINOMA. Before chemotherapy, this cancer that originates in the placentas of pregnant women killed 90% of its victims within a year. Drs. Min Chiu Li of Nassau Hospital, Mineola, N.Y., and Roy Hertz of New York Medical College, Valhalla, N.Y., have used chemotherapy to apparently cure up to 90% of patients diagnosed within four months of the onset of the disease.

BURKITT’S LYMPHOMA is a tumor originating in the lymph glands that may affect the jaw, eyes and other parts of the body; it is especially prevalent in African children. Awards were given to Dr. Denis Burkitt of Britain’s Medical Research Council, who first identified the tumor, and Dr. Joseph Burchenal of Manhattan’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, who recognized its potential as a target for chemotherapy. Another recipient was Dr. John Ziegler of NCI who has achieved disease-free survival for up to ten years in 67% of more than 150 patients treated at the Uganda Cancer Institute. Dr. V. Anomah Ngu, of the Center of Health Sciences, Federal Republic of Cameroun, also has patients who have survived ten years thanks to chemotherapy.

ACUTE LYMPHATIC LEUKEMIA, a cancer of the blood-forming tissues that accounts for approximately half of all juvenile cancer deaths, was invariably fatal before chemotherapy was introduced in 1947. Now at least 25% of all children with the disease can expect to live at least five years. Credited with this achievement were Drs. Emil Frei III of Harvard Medical School, Emil Freireich of the M.D. Anderson Hospital and Tumor Institute at the University of Texas, James Holland of Roswell Park and Donald Pinkel of St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.

HODGKIN’S DISEASE is a cancer originating in the lymphatic system. Formerly, most patients with advanced Hodgkin’s disease lived less than two years. Drs. Paul Carbone and Vincent DeVita of NCI have kept 70% of their patients alive for at least five years; Frei has achieved an 80% remission rate in patients with the disease. Dr. Isaac Djerassi of Mercy Catholic Medical Center in Darby, Pa., has found ways to overcome some of the problems inherent in chemotherapy, which can produce toxic reactions, by developing a technique for transfusing platelets (clotting agents) and disease-fighting white blood cells to patients suffering from cancer.

The winners, who will each receive $2,000, believe that the awards will bring new recognition of chemotherapy’s value as a means of combatting cancer. The researchers themselves may also attract wider attention in the future. In the 27 years since the Lasker Foundation began making awards, 22 of the recipients have gone on to win Nobel Prizes as well.

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