Chapter 02: A Pathologist Discovers His

Title

Chapter 02: A Pathologist Discovers His "Eye"; An Introduction to Judah Folkmann

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Description

In this chapter Dr. Becker talk about "his eye" for cellular structure and abnormality and the environment for research at NYU during his residency-fellowship. He then goes on to talk about his experiences in the Navy, including anecdotes about meeting his good friend Dr. Judah Folkmann and the research on tumors they conducted off hours. Dr. Becker noticed that tumors didn't vascularize in their laboratory conditions: he notes that he is the "illegitimate father of angiogenesis."

Identifier

BeckerF_01_20121213_C02

Publication Date

12-13-2011

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The Interview Subject's Story - Professional Path; Character, Values, Beliefs, Talents; Professional Path; Influences from People and Life Experiences; Military Experience; The Researcher; Portraits; Discovery and Success

Transcript

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Can I ask you, just for a sec, to go back to that phrase, the eye.

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

Bleeding it from the eye?

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

No, no, no, when you said you have the eye, for pathology.

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

Yes.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

What does that mean, exactly?

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

It means that [ ] many superb pathologists are trained into their expertise. [ ] Because it’s a visual science [they] get to the point where they look at things in autopsy, or they look at things under a scope, and they can identify it. Or identify that they don’t know what it is, so that’s of interest.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

So it’s recognizing, kind of, the details of a visual field, a ... []

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

It puts an image in their mind that connects, it connects. I was kind of blessed. It’s not an ego thing, it just is. You can ask people who know me, that I could look and know. And that really intrigued me, because I never knew I could do that.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

When did you discover that?

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

When I got into pathology residency.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

At the residency?

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

Yeah, yeah.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

OK.

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

Yes. It just came to my mind what something was. And then I became very enamored by autopsies when it proved to me what they could reveal. And it was an enthralling experience, because at that time, our tables were [shared] with the medical examiner of New York. So they would have 25-30 bodies that had [undergone] everything you ever read of in the papers [ ]. (laughter) It was like, it was a Bruegel painting, bodies going this way and that way, and in the summer, a grotesque, grotesque. [ ] And when I finished three years of combined training, cell biology and pathology, I was offered the opportunity [ ]to go into the Navy, and I ended up at the Navy Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, which had a degree of fame about it. It was one of the great experiences of my life. I adapted to the Navy life, and learned [ ] that if you made it clear that you were perfectly happy and grateful to be [ ] in the Navy, you were treated like family. And that’s exactly how I felt, and it led to a number of fascinating experiences, two in particular. The one that I didn’t experience, but came so close that, it’s part of my being, and that is that if I had stayed in the Navy six months longer than I did, I would’ve been part of the team that autopsied Jack Kennedy. Of course, that’s where he was autopsied, and frankly, I had all of this medical examiner experience in New York. And the two people who did autopsy him, one of them became a [ ] lifetime friend of mine, and the other, I knew very well, another Navy pathologist, who never got over it, actually, psychologically. So that was close. By the way, it was also the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and I was involved in certain parts of preparations for that. I was listed as the head of a radiation team. So if anywhere in the world, we dropped an atomic bomb and then wanted to send in troops, I had the one little job of going in first, and checking radiation. (laughter) I’m stopping here!

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

(laughter) With your [Geiger?] counter.

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

[ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

(laughter)

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

The other, though, [ ] tremendous lifetime experience, was the Navy. On the first day reporting in, my Navy lieutenant uniform, a tall gangly physician in a uniform also reported in at seven in the morning. The man on duty said to us, what are you two doing here? And both of us said simultaneously, reporting for duty. This was the Navy Medical Research Institute. The sailor on duty said no one reports in this early in the Navy. (laughter) And we said we’re here to do research. And his response was, those people usually come in between nine and ten. And we said, what are we to do? He said go have breakfast in the office’s mess, it’s terrific. And we both said, but we’ve had breakfast. And he said have another one, it’s only $05. And he said, by the way, could I tell you two something? [ ] And we said, what is it? And he said, your insignia are all upside down. (laughter) So we helped each other, and I said to him, I’m Fred Becker, and he said, I’ve heard of you. And he said, I’m Judah Folkman. You know that name.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

I do, of course.

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

Yes. And I said, I’ve heard of you. And the reason was this, remember, I was an intern on the Harvard medical service, Judah was a senior in medical school. He knew me because they all knew these prized characters from outside of Harvard, only a third of the internships were given to outsiders. I know him because there were talk about this genius that was at Harvard at the time developing heart pacemakers as a junior medical student. [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

That’s fine, yeah.

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

] OK. To make this short, Judah and I found that we could do what we were asked to do in the Navy very readily. He was helping on cardiovascular operations, etc., and I was doing things that to this day, I don’t know if I can tell you. But I was in the space program before the first astronauts were picked. And also, in radiation biology. So Judah and I decided to do a project together because we were so used to 18 hours a day. And to make a long story short, we were told not to do anything that wasn’t military, because this was, as I told you, just after Sputnik went up. [This] was the first time the NIH had been given millions and billions of dollars. The military was given money, but for military research only. So we began to work on what was called a hemoglobin substitute. The Navy was concerned that on boats, especially submarines that were now beginning to go under for a long time, there wouldn’t be sufficient supply of blood, and they didn’t want to be tapping the active sailors. So to make a long story short, we started to work together on hemoglobin substitutes. But that wasn’t enough for us, because we devised a way of doing it [that] was mostly cranking things through that the Navy was testing. And therefore, we decided to see if, in our test vehicle, which was a rabbit thyroid [lobe] profused in vitro, we could grow tumor. (laughter) And the long of it -- or the short of it is, we grew tumors, [but] they wouldn’t grow beyond a certain diameter, yet, they remained viable. And when we took them out of that situation, and transplanted them back into a mouse, they blew up into a huge tumor. And I made the observation, being the pathologist, that they -- when they were in this profusion apparatus, they didn’t vascularize. And I said, that’s fascinating, and Judah said, no, that’s amazing. And then [ ] in the subsequent years, became the father of angiogenesis. I always say I’m the illegitimate father of angiogenesis. I’m the one who came in the night and left. (laughter)

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

] What made you start working on the tumors to begin with?

Frederick F. Becker, MD:

Because we were bored. Because we were so used to doing so many things, that we wanted to see, plus the fact that if this [profusate?] was keeping a rabbit thyroid lobe alive, which we proved, the question is, would tumors be able to grow in this environment, and if the tumors grew in this isolated environment, we could put filters across the perfusate and actually enumerate metastatic tumor cells. And it turned out they [did] and the tumors that metastasized in the animal threw off these little cells, and the tumors which didn’t, didn’t. So angiogenesis was a byproduct observation of colossal magnitude, all due to Judah [ ]. But I was the one who observed it, the beginning. So that was a little byproduct of the Navy, OK?

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