Dr. Sidney Farber: The Father of Chemotherapy

Sidney Farber was born in Buffalo, NY in 1903. He was child number 3 out of 14 born to his parents. After graduating from SUNY Buffalo, he had hoped to go to medical school, but it was difficult for a person of Jewish heritage to gain admission to a U.S. medical school. Since he was fluent in German, he went to Germany for medical school. After one year of outstanding performance, he was accepted at Harvard Medical School.

After post-graduate training, Dr. Farber developed a focus on the pathology of diseases in children. He is known today as the father of pediatric pathology for his work with such diseases as cystic fibrosis, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), Celiac disease, and others.

In the 1940s, children diagnosed with leukemia were only given at most a few months to live after they were diagnosed. Dr. Farber was not willing to go along with that dire status. He discovered an acid that contributed to the spread of cancer. Based on this finding, he used a chemical to offset the impact of the acid. Essentially he developed the first form of chemotherapy as a cancer treatment.

Some in the medical community were enthusiastic while others did not accept his success. He was only 44 at the time, and the “old guard” in the cancer research community felt him to be an upstart.

Dr. Farber continued to make breakthroughs in cancer treatment as well as pediatric cardiac surgery. Realizing that more could be done in cancer treatment if funds were available, Dr. Farber began raising money for cancer research through a national campaign called the Jimmy Fund. It was named after one of his first successful patients.

Unlike many researchers, Dr. Farber accepted his role as a marketer of cancer research fundraising. He was able to change societal attitudes about cancer from that of a death sentence to one of a treatable disease through research.

He passed away at age 69 from cardiac arrest. Few, outside of the medical community, are aware of the groundbreaking achievements of Dr. Farber.                                                                                   

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“You can be a victim of cancer, or a survivor of cancer. It’s a mindset.” – Dave Pelzer

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