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January 16, 2008
So Judah Folkman is no longer with us. He's considered to be the father of the idea that many tumors help to make their own blood supply, through angiogenesis, and that this could be a way to impede their growth. Since his first papers on the topic were published back in 1971, I think he does indeed get the credit. And he should not only get the credit for having the idea, but for publishing it and sticking with it. (Here's an interview with Folkman where he talks about this and much more).
Interestingly, it had been noted as long ago as 1941 that transplanted tumors in animals managed to link in to the existing blood supply through the formation of new vessels, but no one knew what to do with this result. (Here's a history of the field from a few years ago). It's not surprising that it took so long for the idea to catch on, though. It was by no means clear back in 1971, much less 1941, how blood vessels could be raised up by signaling from their target tissue. It wasn't until much later that the signaling pathways for blood vessel growth were discovered. Vascular endothelial growth factor, for example, was only found in 1983, and its functions didn't become clear until 1989 (timeline).
Folkman's death (which took place in the Denver airport, of all places) has brought back memories of the (in)famous Gina Kolata article on Folkman's work in the New York Times from 1998, a front-pager which featured James Watson's notorious quote about how Folkman was going to cure cancer in two years. I wrote about that one in the early days of my blog, and again here when Entremed finally gave up on the compounds that Kolata and the Times had hyped to the skies. The year 2000 came and went without a cancer cure, and many more years are going to go by as well. That's because, as I and many others never tire of pointing out, cancer isn't a single disease, and will never have a single cure. It's like looking for a cure for bad writing - it comes in so many different varieties, for so many different reasons, and therefore needs many different fixes.
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