Remembering Martin D. Abeloff, MD

October 1, 2007

Martin D. Abeloff, MD, the chief oncologist and director of the Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, died September 14, 2007, of leukemia. Dr. Abeloff, 65, an international authority on the treatment of breast cancer, was co-Editor-in-Chief of ONCOLOGY and founding Editor-in-Chief of Oncology News International.

Martin D. Abeloff, MD, the chief oncologist and director of the Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, died September 14, 2007, of leukemia. Dr. Abeloff, 65, an international authority on the treatment of breast cancer, was co-Editor-in-Chief of ONCOLOGY and founding Editor-in-Chief of Oncology News International.

The Physician Everyone Wanted to Be

James Armitage, MD, co-Editor-in-Chief, ONCOLOGY, said "Marty was the physician everyone wanted to be."

Dr. Abeloff is remembered by his colleagues and friends across the globe for his characteristic humility, wry sense of humor, and extraordinary devotion to his patients, students, and the collaborative spirit he nurtured in his long tenure at Johns Hopkins. "Marty was that iconic Hopkins physician, scientist, educator, leader, and good citizen rolled into one," said Edward D. Miller, MD, Dean and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine. "He was there for his patients, his residents and fellows, his colleagues, and at so many challenging times, the institution he graced for so long."

Friend and Hopkins colleague Stephen Baylin, MD, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, described Dr. Abeloff as the ultimate role model. "What he didn't know, he took the time to learn. And with a combination of qualities best summarized as wisdom, he helped transform both the treatment of cancer and the way that Johns Hopkins delivers that care. These are his legacies," Dr. Baylin said.

The Iconic Hopkins Leader

Dr. Abeloff received his medical degree from Johns Hopkins in 1966. After residency and fellowship training in Boston's Beth Israel Hospital and Tufts-New England Medical Center, he returned to Johns Hopkins for an oncology fellowship. He joined the Hopkins oncology faculty in 1972, focusing on lung and breast cancer research, then headed the medical oncology department before directing the entire cancer center.

During his 15-year tenure as Cancer Center director, Dr. Abeloff doubled the size of the center's faculty, increased research funding sixfold, and saw it consistently ranked among the nation's top three cancer centers in US News & World Report surveys.

Dr. Abeloff served as president of ASCO, chair of the ASCO Ethics Committee, and chairman of the FDA Oncology Drugs Advisory Committee. This past June Dr. Abeloff was honored by ASCO's Distinguished Service Award for Scientific Achievement.

Giant in Medical Oncology

One patient recalled her first encounter with Dr. Abeloff 17 years ago when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Frightened and unsure of what lay ahead of her, she and her husband recalled "sitting in the waiting room of the oncologist's office when in walked this very tall, slender, bearded man in a white coat." With a list of questions in hand, she and her husband spent the next hour and a half with Dr. Abeloff and left with the sense that nothing was more important to him than her care. "As we got ready to leave, Dr. Abeloff handed me a small piece of paper with his name and phone number on it. He joked that he did not have any business cards, and said if you have any questions or concerns please call me." Seventeen years later, Jacquelene Redmond still carries that small piece of paper in her wallet.

Andrew D. Seidman, MD, of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, who worked with Dr. Abeloff on ONCOLOGY said that "all the interactions I have had with Marty over the years confirm my impression that the phrase 'giant in medical oncology' did not simply reflect his physical stature. He was a visionary leader and a straight-shooter. While those at Johns Hopkins will no doubt feel his absence most acutely, so will the larger oncology community."

Husband, Father, Grandfather

Martin David Abeloff is survived by his wife, Diane, a medical illustrator; daughters Elisa Abeloff and her husband George Landau, and Jennifer Abeloff and her husband Howard Wasserman; three grandchildren; and his sister and brother-in-law Marilyn and Morrell Fox.

Donations in his memory may be sent to the Martin D. Abeloff , MD, Scholars Program in Cancer Prevention and Control at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, Suite 234, 100 N. Charles St, Baltimore, MD 21201.

Editors' Note: We at ONCOLOGY offer our sincere and heartfelt condolences to Dr. Abeloff's family and to his many colleagues and friends at the Kimmel Cancer Center, and in the oncology community. To Dr. Abeloff, we offer our deepest gratitude and our utmost and eternal respect. To have known Marty, and to have been touched by his wisdom and guidance is a privilege. He will be missed, and we are deeply saddened.

See Closing Thoughts for additional thoughts and notes of sympathy from the friends and colleagues of Martin D. Abeloff.