NCI Cancer Bulletin: A Trusted Source for Cancer Research News
NCI Cancer Bulletin: A Trusted Source for Cancer Research News
September 25, 2007 • Volume 4 / Number 26 E-Mail This Document  |  Download PDF  |  Bulletin Archive/Search  |  Subscribe

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Director's Update

In Memory of Dr. Martin Abeloff

Dr. Martin Abeloff
Dr. Martin Abeloff
On Friday, September 14, 2007, the cancer community lost one of its truly outstanding leaders. Dr. Martin Abeloff, who directed the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University for the last 15 years, died after a year-long battle with leukemia.

He was among the finest clinician/researchers I have ever met. His legacy will be marked by his personal success as a leader in translational research, particularly with regard to the adjuvant treatment of breast cancer. Dr. Abeloff also was a proponent of cancer prevention and control research, establishing a formal program at Kimmel for research in early disease biomarkers and disease surveillance.

The tremendous achievements of the researchers, clinicians, and other staff at Hopkins over the past decade and a half are a tribute to Dr. Abeloff's tremendous abilities as a champion of cancer research and all it can accomplish. It was those strong beliefs that allowed Dr. Abeloff and his colleagues to attract the support needed to build a world-class research and treatment facility that encourages and fosters collaboration and excellence.

Despite his many responsibilities, Dr. Abeloff generously volunteered his considerable expertise, particularly at NCI, where he served for more than 10 years on various advisory boards and panels, including as chair of the Board of Scientific Counselors and as a member of the Advisory Committee to the Director.

In 1994, Dr. Abeloff gave the keynote address at the American College of Surgeon's "Commission on Cancer" meeting, outlining his thoughts on professionalism and cancer care. "Values essential to medical professionalism are honesty and integrity," he said. "The professional physician has an attitude of humility as well as accountability to patients, colleagues, and society."

Rarely do individuals ascend to the lofty standards they discuss in forums such as this. But that could never be said of Dr. Abeloff. His honesty and integrity were unparalleled. Former NIH director and current president of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center Dr. Harold Varmus described him well, calling Dr. Abeloff a man who "knew how to criticize without insult and praise without flattery."

Dr. Abeloff never forgot that patients are people, and that his hospital's responsibility was to treat the whole patient. From that belief arose the Art of Healing program at Kimmel, through which patients get to enjoy original works of art and musical performances, providing moments of serenity during a time often overflowing with anguish.

In a Washington Post article on Dr. Abeloff's death, a former patient recounted how 17 years ago, Dr. Abeloff helped to allay her fears about her pending treatment. He also gave her a small piece of torn paper with his phone number on it - he didn't have a business card - telling her to call him any time. Humble and accountable, indeed.

The remarkable outpouring of kind words and accolades from colleagues, former patients, and friends in the wake of his untimely passing is no surprise. He was a man who touched countless lives.

I'd like to offer the heartfelt condolences - and the eternal gratitude - of the entire NCI to Dr. Abeloff's family. He was a rare person, one who continually gave of himself, who believed in the constant pursuit of knowledge and excellence, and whose impact will continue to be felt for decades to come. As a very close friend and professional colleague, I will dearly miss him.

Dr. John E. Niederhuber
Director, National Cancer Institute