Lee Wattenberg, 92, “Father of Chemoprevention”
Lee Wattenberg, emeritus professor of laboratory medicine and pathology at the University of Minnesota Masonic Cancer Center, died Dec. 9 at the age of 92.
His research established the discipline of chemoprevention. Wattenberg first recognized that some compounds could effectively block the development of carcinogens in animals. In 1966, he published a paper in the journal Cancer Research that reviewed 36 years of animal studies on the effects of certain compounds on carcinogenesis and laid the framework for our understanding of how these compounds work. It was in this paper that he introduced the term chemoprophylaxis.
He later investigated two categories of chemopreventive agents: synthetic compounds that might prevent carcinogen-induced lung cancer, and dietary constituents, such as the cruciferous plants cabbage and broccoli. He studied the processes that cause irreversibility in carcinogenesis and sought to determine whether and how these processes could be targeted for intervention. Also, most recently, Wattenberg pioneered the use of aerosols to deliver drugs in lung cancer.
He traced his lifelong dedication to cancer prevention to his work from 1944 to 1946 as a junior biologist with the Medical Research Group of the Manhattan Project, whose mission in relation to the development of the atomic bomb was to study the effects of radiation. This early work was inspired by his brother, Albert Wattenberg, a renowned physicist who worked with Enrico Fermi on the development of the atomic bomb.
A native of New York, Wattenberg received his B.S. from City College of New York in 1941. He then received his medical degree from the University of Minnesota School of Medicine and was a distinguished faculty member at the university for more than 60 years.
Wattenberg served as president of the American Association for Cancer Research from 1992 to 1993 and was an elected fellow of the AACR Academy in 2013. He became an active AACR member in 1961.
He served terms as associate editor for two AACR journals, Cancer Research and Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, as well as on every major standing committee of the organization, most notably as chairperson of the first AACR Task Force on the topic of Cancer Prevention.
He chaired the first cancer prevention symposium at the 1979 AACR Annual Meeting, served as chair of the Annual Meeting Program Committee in 1982, and was a featured speaker at the AACR conferences on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research.
During his AACR presidency, he launched the Associate Member Council in 1992 to represent the interests of associate members in the association’s governance. He was later honored for his commitment to the professional advancement of young investigators as the first recipient of the Associate Member Council Award of Excellence, which recognizes AACR members “whose insight, courage, and actions have resulted in significant benefits for associate members.”
He was also president of the American Histochemical Society in 1996. His work was recognized by his colleagues with the Naylor Dana Award of the American Health Foundation in 1991, the AACR-American Cancer Society Award for Outstanding Contributions to Cancer Prevention in 1996, and the AACR Award for Lifetime Achievement in Cancer Prevention Research in 2010.
Preceded in death by his son Richard and daughter Lynn, Wattenberg is survived by his wife of 70 years, Esther; his children, Mark, Anne, Binks, and Elizabeth; eight grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorial donations be made to the AACR.