Moses Judah Folkman

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: (Published 31 January 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:282
  1. Jeanne Lenzer

    Judah Folkman spent his life in dogged pursuit of a cure for cancer. For most of his career he was ridiculed and called a charlatan. But his discoveries were eventually hailed world wide and launched a new field of study: angiogenesis. Over 1000 laboratories are now studying angiogenesis, and more than 1.2m patients are taking antiangiogenic drugs for cancer and other diseases.

    The son of a rabbi and a social worker, Folkman’s interest in medicine was sparked as a young boy when his father took him on visits to his congregants who were in hospital. Folkman told his father that he too wanted to help patients but he wanted to do it as a doctor. He entered Harvard Medical School at the age of 19.

    Folkman’s first discoveries came early in his career. In 1961 he was drafted into military service aboard a naval vessel. He was given the task of finding out whether blood could be dried and reconstituted. To test the experimental blood, Folkman bathed a cultured rabbit thyroid in the blood. The gland thrived. But Folkman went one step further, he wanted to see if the blood could support new growth, so he injected the thyroid with cancer cells, the fastest growing cells he could think of. What he observed would fascinate and drive him for the rest of his career: the cancer cells grew into tiny tumours, but they all stopped growing at about 1 mm in size, something that doesn’t happen normally in living …

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