Radiation oncology pioneer Moody Wharam, dies at 77

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Moody Wharam Jr., professor emeritus of radiation oncology and molecular radiation sciences, and former Willard and Lillian Hackerman Professor of Radiation Oncology at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, died Aug. 10 at age 77.

Wharam specialized in the treatment of children with cancer and, in his more than 40 years at Johns Hopkins, ushered in many firsts. From 1980 to 1990, he served as the first chairman of the radiation oncology committee of the Pediatric Oncology Group, an NCI collaborative that studied childhood cancers.

Wharam had the unique distinction of being named to four study groups appointed by NCI to investigate common childhood cancers. His work led to dramatic increases in pediatric cancer survival rates.

“For literally thousands of our own pediatric oncology patients and in nationally and internationally impactful clinical trials in childhood cancers, Moody Wharam served for decades as a rock of unswerving clinical excellence, caring and progress,” said Curt Civin, associate dean for research at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and former director of pediatric oncology at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.

Wharam led research to scale back treatment for many childhood cancers to prevent toxicities that caused second cancers decades later, damage to growing bones and organs, and impairments to learning and other cognitive brain functions. He co-led a groundbreaking study of treatment reduction in Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which led to refinements in therapy. He also developed the standard of care for rhabdomyosarcoma, a childhood cancer of the connective tissue that attaches muscles to bones, combining chemotherapy and radiation therapy, a treatment so effective it remains the standard today.

In the early 1990s, years before advanced radiosurgery equipment had been developed, Wharam innovated a way to deliver radiation very precisely to preserve vision for a toddler diagnosed with cancer in both eyes.

“Dr. Wharam was the consummate Hopkins physician and clinical researcher. He believed that a focus on improving the lives of children with cancer requires absolute attention to detail, a drive to understand what and how to improve care through research and a kind, compassionate, and caring touch with children and their parents. He was a master of each of these. In fact, children diagnosed with sarcomas, to this day, still directly benefit from his life’s work,” said Theodore DeWeese, director of radiation oncology and molecular radiation sciences, who was recruited to Johns Hopkins by Wharam. “My life and the lives of so many other former trainees has been made so much richer and better because of our relationship with Moody Wharam.”

Wharam joined the Johns Hopkins faculty in 1975, the second person recruited to the Kimmel Cancer Center’s radiation oncology program. He helped oversee planning and outfitting of the radiation oncology facilities for the new cancer center, which opened in 1977 as one of the first academic programs in radiation oncology in the U.S.

He also oversaw two expansions to radiation oncology, with the opening of the Kimmel Cancer Center’s Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Building and a satellite facility at Green Spring Station in Lutherville, Maryland.

In 1990, Wharam was named acting director of the division of radiation oncology, and from 1994 to 2000 served as director of the division. He retired in December 2016. Upon Wharam’s retirement, DeWeese initiated a campaign to establish the Moody Wharam Professorship to honor his unparalleled contribution to the field of radiation oncology.

Wharam was a member of the International Society of Pediatric Oncology, the Children’s Oncology Group, and a fellow of both the American College of Radiology and the American Society for Radiation Oncology.

Before coming to Johns Hopkins, Wharam earned his bachelor’s degree in economics at Harvard University in 1963, and then served as a shipboard officer in the U.S. Navy Atlantic Fleet from 1963 to 1965. He earned his medical degree at the University of Virginia in 1969 and served an internship in medicine and pediatrics at Georgetown University Medical Center.

From 1970 to 1973, Wharam held an NIH fellowship in radiation therapy at the University of California Medical Center, San Francisco and held a faculty position at Duke University Medical School.

Wharam is survived by his wife Sheila, children Julie Whelan, James Franklin Wharam and Anne Thomas, and eight grandchildren.

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