Intended for healthcare professionals


Donald Morton

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: (Published 10 March 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g1746
  1. Ned Stafford, Hamburg
  1. ns{at}

Leading authority in melanoma research and treatment

John M Heller/Getty Images

As a child in the 1930s, Donald Morton lived in rural poverty in West Virginia. The family home, built by his coalminer father, had no indoor plumbing and no electricity. Morton went on to study medicine and, during a career that lasted over half a century, amassed a list of research and clinical accomplishments that are recognised worldwide.

Morton’s most important work was perhaps the development of sentinel lymph node biopsy techniques—now the standard in the US for detection and surgical treatment of several cancers, particularly melanoma and breast cancer. He also spent decades trying to develop an effective marketable vaccine for melanoma. Although his efforts did not end in success, his research provided a clearer understanding of the immunology of cancer.

Morton was generally acknowledged as a highly creative researcher with innovative ideas and new treatment approaches. “He was a brilliant clinical researcher and clinical trials designer,” says Odysseas Zoras, a surgical oncologist at the University of Crete and president of the Hellenic Society of Surgical Oncology.

Throughout his career, Morton was eager to …

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