Dr. Peter Nowell, cancer research pioneer, dies at 88

Peter C. Nowell, MD, who made breakthrough discoveries that paved the way for the future of cancer research, died on Dec. 26 at 88 years old, The New York Times reports.

He died from complications of Alzheimer's disease, his daughter Kristin confirmed with the Times.

Dr. Nowell and colleague David A. Hungerford, PhD, discovered the first genetic defect proven to cause cancer. They published the finding in 1960, catalyzing a new direction of cancer research that ultimately led to the lifesaving cancer drug Gleevac, according to the report. Gleevac, for many patients, changed chronic myeloid leukemia from a fatal disease to a chronic one that could be controlled with medication for years.

Before the publication of the report, few scientists believed genetic mutations could lead to cancer.

Dr. Nowell and Dr. Hungerford, who at the time was a graduate student at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, made the discovery by noticing that in diseased white blood cells from patients with chronic myeloid leukemia, one of the 46 chromosomes was abnormally short. Dr. Nowell realized that tumors could grow from a single cell that had such a defect, according to the report.

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