Heroes in Cancer Prevention

Dr. Michael J Hill: 1939 – 2003

Founder of ECP - Michael J Hill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The unexpected death of Mike Hill on 1 March 2003 at the early age of 63 years will have come as a shock to his many friends and colleagues. It is ironic that one of the leading figures in the field of cancer prevention should have succumbed to bladder cancer possibly related, as he believed, to exposure to potentially carcinogenic chemicals during his early years in laboratory work.
Michael James Hill was born in Watford on 16 November 1939. He was educated at Hemel Hempstead Grammar School and then University College, London, obtaining a BSc (Special) in Chemistry in 1960. He then joined the Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS) and gained a PhD (London) in 1963. Following two years spent in Minneapolis at the University of Minnesota Medical School studying virulence factors in impetigo strains of Streptococcus pyogenes, he moved to the Department of Microbiology at St Mary’s Hospital Medical School, London, first as a Research Fellow, being promoted to Lecturer in 1967. While there he began his research on the metabolic effects of the degradation products of bile acid breakdown by faecal organisms, his first paper on this topic appearing in Gut in 1968.
In 1973 he returned to the PHLS where he remained for the next 17 years as Director of the Bacterial Metabolism Research Laboratory, first at the Central Public Health Laboratory, Colindale, London until 1981 and then at PHLS–CAMR, Porton Down, Wiltshire until 1987 when he became Deputy Director of the Division of Pathology. He retired in 1990 to become a freelance consultant. From 2000 until his death he was Professor of Microbial Ecology and Health in the Nutrition Research Centre at South Bank University, London.
During his PHLS years Mike’s research interests increasingly focused on the metabolic activities of gut bacteria in relation to health and disease, primarily on the role of diet and gut bacteria in cancer of the large bowel and stomach and in inflammatory bowel disease. Over the years he authored or co-authored in excess of 350 papers, chapters, abstracts, several books and posters and was an invited speaker at many meetings worldwide.
His contributions in his chosen field were recognised when in 1985 he gave the Joseph Lister Memorial Lecture to the Canadian Medical Association and in 1987 the Kettle Memorial Lecture to the Royal College of Pathologists, the year in which this College also elected him a Fellow and the University of London awarded him a Doctorate in Science. In 1988 he became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, in 2000 he received the Vahouny Medal for distinction in research in dietary fibre and in 2001 he was elected Chairman of the Forum on Food and Health of the Royal Society of Medicine.
While these impressive achievements would have represented a lifetime’s activity for very many scientists they only reflected the solid foundations for what I know Mike considered his most important scientific contribution, namely his association during the last two decades of his life, with the European Cancer Prevention Organisation (ECP), of which he became Chairman in 1987.
To it he subsequently devoted most of his immense energy and time. His research interests had to broaden to all cancer sites. This was reflected, for instance, in the diversity of topics addressed during the Annual ECP Symposia. Together with other colleagues he organised European multinational intervention studies on the prevention of colon adenomas (a precursor of colon cancer) and gastric intestinal metaplasia (a precursor of gastric adenocarcinoma). Various workshops were organised. One of these, on the changing pattern of oesophageal cancer, acted as a catalyst for starting the UK National Barrett’s Oesophagus Registry (together with P I Reed and A Watson), the first such registry anywhere, as a joint initiative of ECP and the British Society of Gastroenterology.
The achievement of which he was most proud, however, was the European Journal of Cancer Prevention, which he founded and edited (together with A Giacosa) until his death. Since the appearance of the first issue in October 1991 and until Issue 3 of Volume 11, June 2002, there was not a single issue of the Journal to which Mike had not personally contributed either an editorial, commentary or co-authored a paper. The Journal has achieved a significant impact factor and international recognition in its field. Of this achievement we should all be proud and which, I know, gave Mike great pleasure and satisfaction.
Mike was an enthusiast, a man of many ideas and opinions ranging over many topics expressed volubly and often provocatively both in speech and the written word. He was stimulating and fun company, a loyal friend and one who stood out in a crowd and not only because of his physique. I personally owe him a great debt of gratitude for introducing me to the wider concepts of cancer prevention and to ECP in particular and for having been a close and valued collaborator during the years of our joint research activities.
Above all Mike was a family man and a lover of the English countryside. His loss will be felt most deeply by Joyce, his wife of almost 39 years, without whose support he would not have been able to achieve so much and whose sadness we all share.
It is now up to Professor Jaak Janssens of Hasselt, Belgium, the new Chairman of ECP and co-Editor of the Journal and his colleagues to carry forward the torch of cancer prevention through ECP so successfully held aloft by Mike Hill. His act will be a hard one to follow.
© 2003 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc

Dr. Irma Russo: 1942 – 2013

Prof. Irma Russo

Irma H. Russo, M.D. passed away on June 25, 2013. She was 71 years old. For the past 22 years Irma worked at Fox Chase Cancer Center; first as director of surgical and clinical pathology and then as director of the molecular endocrinology section of the Breast Cancer Research Laboratory, which she founded in 1975 with her husband, Jose Russo, M.D.
Born in San Rafael, Mendoza, Argentina, she was the daughter of Maria Carmen Martinez de Alvarez and Jose Maria Alvarez. Irma studied medicine at the National University of Cuyo, in Mendoza, Argentina, where she met her husband and true collaborator, Jose. In 1971 they were invited to continue their research in the United States where they built what was to become a 50-plus year career directed at determining the causes of breast cancer and a true means of prevention.
Irma was a pioneer in identifying the mechanisms of breast cancer prevention as mediated by pregnancy and worked towards developing a hormonal treatment for prevention of the disease using the pregnancy hormone Human Chorionic Gonadotropin, and more recently, its replacement by a short amino acid peptide.  Together with her husband she published five books and over 200 research articles. In 1994 she founded the League of Women Against Cancer, an organization with the mission of providing education and assistance to women living with cancer.
Her unquenchable curiosity and intellectual dexterity led her into vast innovative territory, such as her queries into the role of circadian rhythm in breast cancer development. At an age when many look to retire, Irma continued to relish the pursuit of knowledge. Her sense of adventure extended into all her pursuits; she played the piano, sang in the Our Lady Help of Christians choir and was an active member of the parish community, and at sixty-six she earned her scuba diving certification.
Overall, Irma had a very distinguished career in research and remained devoted until the end to the mission of understanding the cellular and molecular basis of breast cancer.  But she was also a dedicated wife, mother, sister, and friend, always ready to help those in need. In short, a woman of excellence. She will be remembered not only by her many friends, colleagues, and the many scientists she trained and mentored over the years, but also by every human being who was touched by her good nature.
She is survived by her husband and loving daughter, Patricia A. Russo; by her son-in-law, Ronald W. Waite, Jr. and by her sister, Alicia E. Alvarez, Ph.D., as well as several nieces, nephews, an aunt, uncle and cousins.

 

 Dr. Anne Szarewski: 1959-2013

Dr. Anne Swarewski

Anne Marie Szarewski was a physician and medical researcher who made major contributions to the health of women. She was well known to and much loved by many in the world of HPV research. She made great contributions to the field of prevention of HPV associated diseases.  Tragically, she died suddenly and unexpectedly on the 24th of August 2013, just  a 8 days before her 54th birthday.    She is survived by her husband Lester Venter whom she married in 2003.
Anne learnt colposcopy from Albert Singer and epidemiology from Jack Cuzick, with whom she continued to work until her death. In 1995, they published the first study of HPV testing in cervical screening and showed that testing for the presence of HPV DNA would pick up cases of high-grade CIN that were missed by cytology testing. This early trial was followed by a larger multi-centre trial using hybrid capture II. The HART study, published in 2003. concluded  that “HPV testing could be used for primary screening in women older than 30 years, with cytology used to triage HPV-positive women. HPV-positive women with normal or borderline cytology (about 6% of screened women) could be managed by repeat testing after 12 months”.
More recently Anne was perhaps best known for the Predictors Studiesin which a number of commercially available HPV tests and two collection mediums were compared on the same clinical samples. Initially she studied HPV testing in a triage setting and more recently in a primary screening setting.
Anne was also one of the first to study the possibility of HPV testing on self-collected vaginal samples- an approach that is finding increasing attention as a way to increase screening uptake both in developed countries for women who find clinician sampling embarrassing, uncomfortable or  simply inconvenient, and in low-resource settings.
Anne was a principal investigator and author on key clinical trials studying the bivalent HPV vaccine.   She was a strong supporter of HPV vaccination and one of the first to call for older women and boys to be vaccinated too.
Anne was something of an enigma. She professed to have no understanding of statistics but chose to work in analytic epidemiology. She thought that most mathematicians were on the autistic end of the spectrum, but spent much of her career working closely with them and enjoying their company. On social issues such as contraception, feminism and gay rights, Anne was a liberal, but in other respects she was extremely conservative. She believed that certain standards should be maintained – always being immaculately dressed, which was often at odds with the tendency of academics to wear casual and sometimes scruffy clothes.
To her immediate colleagues, Anne was the cake lady. Every day at 3.00pm she would produce cakes and wander into people’s offices to offer a little cake ‘pick me up’ and entertaining conversation. Her lively, upbeat personality and conscientious attention to detail and women’s needs in the increasingly bureaucratic field of medical research will be greatly missed.

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