Judah Folkman

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Moses Judah Folkman
Born (1933-02-24)February 24, 1933
Cleveland, Ohio
Died January 14, 2008(2008-01-14) (aged 74)
Denver, Colorado
Citizenship American
Institutions Harvard Medical School
Alma mater The Ohio State University, Harvard Medical School
Known for angiogenesis
Notable awards Charles S. Mott Prize (1997)
Massry Prize (1997)
Keio Medical Science Prize (1998)

Moses Judah Folkman (February 24, 1933 – January 14, 2008) was an American medical scientist best known for his research on tumor angiogenesis, the process by which a tumor attracts blood vessels to nourish itself and sustain its existence. He founded the field of angiogenesis research, which has led to the discovery of a number of therapies based on inhibiting or stimulating neovascularization.[1]

Early life[edit]

Born in 1933 in Cleveland, Ohio, Judah Folkman accompanied his father, a rabbi, on visits to hospital patients. By age seven, he knew he wanted to be a doctor rather than follow in his father's footsteps, so he could offer cures in addition to comfort. His father replied, "In that case, you can be a rabbi-like doctor," words his son took to heart.[2]

Folkman graduated from The Ohio State University in 1953, and then Harvard Medical School[3] in 1957. While still a student at Harvard Medical School, he developed one of the first pacemakers.[4] After his graduation, he did his surgical residency at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he rose to the rank of Chief Resident in Surgery. During this time, Folkman worked on liver cancer and atrio-pacemakers.

Between 1960 and 1962, Folkman served in the United States Navy as a lieutenant, where he studied blood vessel growth at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

Work on angiogenesis[edit]

In 1971, he reported in the New England Journal of Medicine that all cancer tumors are angiogenesis-dependent. If a tumor could be stopped from growing its own blood supply, he surmised, it would wither and die. Though his hypothesis was initially disregarded by most experts in the field, Folkman persisted with his research.

After more than a decade, his theory became widely accepted and is now being exploited in the treatment of a growing number of diseases, including blindness caused by macular degeneration.[5]

Folkman pioneered the use of interferon to heal hemangiomas, growths that often threaten the lives of infants. His research has led to the development of progressively more potent compounds, such as angiostatin, endostatin, vasculostatin, caplostatin and lodamin, that have successfully halted the growth of tumors in laboratory mice.[6] Two angiogenesis inhibitors based on Dr. Folkman’s hypothesis and developed by Genentech, Lucentis and Avastin, are now FDA-approved for use in age-related macular degeneration and some metastatic cancers respectively.[7]

Over 50 angiogenesis inhibitors — including endostatin, angiostatin, 2ME2 (Panzem), and a thrombospondin analogue — are in clinical trials today[when?] for cancer treatment, including a number with unanticipated anti-angiogenic effects. These include the anti-inflammatory drug celecoxib (Celebrex); rosiglitazone (Avandia), a drug commonly used to treat Type 2 diabetes; doxycycline, a common antibiotic; and some cancer drugs that also have other mechanisms of action, including Erbitux, Herceptin, Velcade and Tarceva. Even some conventional chemotherapy drugs have demonstrated anti-angiogenic effects when given frequently in smaller doses (see Anti-Angiogenic Chemotherapy below). Folkman envisioned that someday, angiogenesis inhibitors would be used together or in combination with conventional anticancer therapies such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy, immunotherapy, gene therapy, or vaccine therapy.[8]

Scientific legacy[edit]

Folkman was appointed the Julia Dyckman Andrus Professor of Pediatric Surgery at Harvard Medical School in 1968, where he was also Professor of Cell Biology. He was the youngest full Professor at Harvard Medical School in history. In addition to directing the Children's Hospital Boston Surgical Research Laboratories, which grew to become the Vascular Biology Program, for nearly four decades, he was the Scientific Director of the hospital's Vascular Anomalies Center. A revered figure at the hospital and throughout the world, Folkman's insights informed many active research efforts outside the field of vascular biology. He constantly initiated new collaborations to study a number of varied disorders, including hydrocephalus and hemorrhages in the brains and eyes of premature infants. His presentations consistently drew standing-room-only audiences.

Folkman was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, the National Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society, among others. He was the author of some 400 papers and more than 100 book chapters and monographs and received scores of United States awards and honors for his research as well as numerous international awards, including the George Ledlie Prize from Harvard, Canada's Gairdner Foundation International Award, Israel's Wolf Prize, Germany's Ernst Schering Prize, the Italian Association of Cancer Research in Rome's Gold Medal,[9] the United Kingdom Society for Endocrinology's Dale Medal,[10] Prince of Asturias Award and Switzerland's Dr. Josef Steiner Cancer Research Award.[11] In 2006, Folkman was one of seven people appointed by President Bush to the National Cancer Advisory Board of the National Institutes of Health.

Folkman's scientific accomplishments included founding a new field of biology and devising a novel approach to understanding and treating many diseases, including cancer. He mentored an entire generation of world-class scientists and clinicians throughout the world. This accomplishment, along with his generous collaborative spirit, has resulted in the continued study of angiogenesis in hundreds of laboratories worldwide.


For his discoveries which originated the concept and developed the field of angiogenesis research, Folkman was awarded the Wolf Prize in Medicine in 1992.

He was awarded the Massry Prize from the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California in 1997. Just prior to his death, Dr. Folkman accepted the 2007 Hope Funds Award of Excellence in Basic Research for his lifelong work in the area of angiogenesis.


Folkman died in Denver[12] on January 14, 2008[13] en route to deliver the 2008 Keynote Address at the Keystone Symposium (Molecular Mechanisms of Angiogenesis in Development and Disease) in Vancouver, British Columbia, one of the hundreds of lectures that he delivered at conferences and meetings around the world.

He is survived by his wife, Paula, two daughters, and a granddaughter.[14]

In 2013, a biographical profile of Dr. Folkman was included in a bestselling book called Saving Sight: An eye surgeon's look at life behind the mask and the heroes who changed the way we see, by Andrew Lam (author), M.D.[15]


  1. ^ Cao, Yihai; Langer, Robert (9 Sep 2008). "A review of Judah Folkman's remarkable achievements in biomedicine". Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 105 (36): 13203–13205. doi:10.1073/pnas.0806582105. PMC 2533169. PMID 18772371. 
  2. ^ http://www.childrenshospital.org/cfapps/research/data_admin/Site2580/mainpageS2580P1.html Remembering Judah Folkman: Biography
  3. ^ Harvard Medical School
  4. ^ http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/fol0bio-1 Judah Folkman Biography, Foundations for Cancer Therapy
  5. ^ "Judah Folkman on angiogenesis". Childrenshospital.org. Retrieved 2010-04-11. 
  6. ^ http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/05_23/b3936016.htm%7C title=Inside Judah Folkman's Lab
  7. ^ http://www.genentech.com
  8. ^ "Remembering Judah Folkman: Angiogenesis - Blood Vessel Growth and the Treatment of Disease". Childrenshospital.org. 2004-02-26. Retrieved 2010-04-11. 
  9. ^ Awards and honors
  10. ^ Dale Medal
  11. ^ The Dr. Josef Steiner Cancer Research Foundation
  12. ^ Pollack, Andrew (January 16, 2008). "Judah Folkman, Researcher, Died at 74 on January 15, 2008". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 April 2010. 
  13. ^ "Remembering Cancer Researcher Judah Folkman | Newsweek Health". Newsweek.com. 2008-01-16. Retrieved 2010-04-11. 
  14. ^ Allen, Scott (2008-01-16). "Judah Folkman, cancer's innovative enemy, dies at 74". The Boston Globe (Boston.com). Retrieved 2010-04-11. 
  15. ^ Lam, Andrew. Saving Sight: An eye surgeon's look at life behind the mask and the heroes who changed the way we see (978-1617203794) Bokeelia, FL; Irie Books, 2013.

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