David M. Livingston, Dana-Farber scientist and former BSA president, dies at 80

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David Morse Livingston, a Dana-Farber Cancer Institute scientist who made key discoveries and forged new collaborations that opened up new avenues in cancer science, died suddenly on October 17. Livingston was 80 years old.

“There was no sign that some sort of health crisis was imminent,” said her daughter, Catherine Livingston. “This is why everyone is so shocked.”

During his half-century at Dana-Farber, Livingston held many high-level positions and served as a valuable mentor to a myriad of students and beginning scientists, including Nobel Laureate William G . Kaelin Jr.

“David has brought so much energy and expertise to the cancer research enterprise that his contributions are significant and enduring,” said NCI Director Ned Sharpless. “We have come to a promising point in the history of cancer research thanks to David. He will live through the many researchers he has mentored and with whom he has worked as a colleague and leader. ”

Livingston was the first chairman of the NCI Council of Scientific Advisors, appointed by Richard Klausner, then director of NCI.

“David was truly a larger than life character – I can’t believe he’s gone,” said Myles Brown, director of the Center for Functional Cancer Epigenetics, which trained in Livingston’s lab in the 1980s. .

Laurie H. Glimcher, CEO of Dana-Farber, said in a statement:

“When Robert Goddard of Worcester, the father of space travel, was a boy, he would sit in his cherry tree and dream of flying to Mars. Much later a hurricane toppled the tree and Goddard wrote in his journal, “The cherry tree is gone; have to go on alone now.

“I think that’s what many of us feel today: that we have lost not only a source of comfort but a source of inspiration. David Livingston allowed us to dream big about Dana-Farber’s future, for that was how he saw it, and his unwavering enthusiasm and love for the institution and all of its members lifted our hearts and mind every day. Now we have to go on without him. But there is surely no better way to honor his memory than to do what he has spent his life doing.

Kaelin said Livingston “was one of the greatest scientists in the world, but that only scratches the surface of why he will be missed. He was a fiery mathematician who could fill a room with his characteristic intellect and laughter. He has trained dozens of successful scientists and has been a coveted advisor to directors of cancer centers, pharmaceutical companies and philanthropic organizations around the world. When I entered David’s lab in 1988, I was immediately inspired by his intelligence and infectious enthusiasm. He methodically sculpted me as a scientist, teaching me to formulate and approach important scientific questions. And his mentorship didn’t end when I left his lab, it continued throughout my career. The fact that I finally won the Nobel Prize says more about David than it does about me.

Brown said Livingston’s death was all the more surprising because just two weeks earlier he had hosted an annual breast cancer research retreat at the Livingston family farm in Colrain, Massachusetts.

“David was in rare form, as always,” Brown recalls, “asking each speaker insightful questions, interspersed with jokes and jokes in a variety of languages.”

Livingston held the Charles A. Dana Chair in Human Cancer Genetics at Dana-Farber and was Emil Frei III Distinguished Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He was also Deputy Director of the Dana-Farber / Harvard Cancer Center from 2000 to 2019 and was Director and Chief Medical Officer of Dana-Farber from 1991 to 1995. He was a member of the DF / HCC executive committee and was a member of the Dana-Farber executive committee for research.

He was also a member of the board of directors of Breakthrough Cancer (The Cancer Letter, February 21, 2021)

[The Cancer Letter editor’s note: Livingston resigned as director and physician-in-chief at Dana-Farber following the death of the Boston Globe reporter, Betsy Lehman, who was receiving high-dose chemotherapy on a protocol at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Lehman died of an accidental overdose (The Cancer Letter, March 31, 1995).

The publicity generated by her death instantly elevating reports of errors at cancer centers to the level of national news stories (The Cancer Letter, June 30, 1995). Though he stepped down from his leadership positions at that time, Livingston, remained at Dana-Farber.]

A leading expert on the molecular origins of breast and ovarian cancer, Livingston has focused his research on genes that regulate cell growth, including tumor suppressor genes. Rb, p300 / CBP, BRCA1 and BRCA2. His work has been the cornerstone of numerous studies on cancer susceptibility linked to BRCA function and mutations.

By understanding the tumor suppressive properties of BRCA1 and BRCA2, he paved the way for the study of new approaches to the prevention of breast and ovarian cancer.

Livingston’s approach “has changed the way cancer science is done in Boston” with an emphasis on collaboration, said William Hahn, executive vice president and COO of Dana-Farber.

“David Livingston was a giant in cancer research,” said Tyler Jacks, founding director of the David H. Koch Cancer Research Institute at MIT and president of Break Through Cancer. “Her lab’s work has helped shape how the field now understands key genetic events in the development of breast cancer and many other types of cancer. He has been instrumental in bringing researchers across the cancer continuum together. “

Jacks said Livingston was central to the development of The Bridge Project, a research effort between DF / HCC and MIT’s Koch Institute, which over the past 12 years has funded more than 70 research teams to tackle some of the most difficult problems of cancer. “David has played a pivotal role in stimulating the best minds to collaborate and come up with the most innovative approaches to discover new ways to detect and treat disease,” said Jacks. “His death is deeply felt by our entire community. “

Edward J. Benz Jr., President and CEO Emeritus of Dana-Farber, said the Institute “just wouldn’t be the same without David Livingston. Whether as a world-class scientist, one of the true founders of the Dana Farber / Harvard Cancer Center, institutional leader, mentor, colleague or friend, he was someone who touched us all with his energy, his friendliness, its fierce commitment to our mission. , and loyalty to our people. David will forever be an important part of Dana Farber’s DNA.

David G. Nathan, President Emeritus of Dana-Farber, said: “I met David when he was an intern at Brigham and was a brand new hematologist at Brigham. I was deeply impressed then and I remained so. He was extremely brilliant, inventive and honest. I have followed his career with great interest. In 1995, when I became President of DFCI, he was the first DFCI faculty member I sat down with to plan for the future. He played an extremely important role in our recovery.

“Beyond his good wit, there was a great sense of humor and an understanding of where the other person came from. He will be sorely missed. It certainly cannot be reproduced.

James DeCaprio, a hematology-oncology researcher, said Livingston has been a guide and mentor since DeCaprio arrived at Dana-Farber in 1986, “and has helped me in so many ways to promote my career, even at this. day. He cared deeply for so many people.

As a scientist, said DeCaprio, Livingston “offered absolutely fearless experiments, difficult in their execution, but so insightful to bring new ways of thinking about new and old problems. He was a formidable opponent of cancer.

DeCaprio said Livingston helped create great collaborative efforts, including one between Dana-Farber and pharmaceutical company Sandoz. The relationship evolved into a long-standing collaboration between Dana-Farber and Novartis, which yielded a lot of important information and advancements in drug development.

Livingston was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and raised in Salem. He recently recalled in a Dana-Farber’s “Unraveled” podcast that he caught the science bug at the age of 11 when he received a subscription to the New England Journal of Medicine as a gift from a parent. He couldn’t understand the handwriting, but he liked the photos and case stories from Massachusetts General Hospital.

There is nothing quite like watching a person grow up, watching them grow their mythical wings, start to think for themselves, and start asking questions that take your breath away.

David Livingston

He then received his BA, cum laude, from Harvard University in 1961 and his MD, magna cum laude, from Tufts Medical School in 1965. He trained in internal medicine at the Peter Bent Hospital. Brigham and did his science training at NCI and Harvard. Medicine School. He joined Harvard and Dana-Farber faculty as an assistant professor of medicine in 1973.

“He’s spent his entire life in the greater Boston area, with the exception of two times at NIH,” Catherine said.

Livingston’s research has focused on proto-oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes that regulate cell growth in the body and, when damaged or lose their normal control, can lead to cancer. In recent years, her work has focused on the key molecular steps that trigger the development of breast and ovarian cancer.

Among his many awards and accomplishments, he received the Pezcoller-AACR Foundation International Prize in 2017, recognizing his significant contributions to translational cancer research.

In 2019, he was recognized for his remarkable 45 years of service to Dana-Farber. Livingston was a member of the United States National Academy of Medicine and the United States National Academy of Sciences. He had been a member of the editorial boards of numerous scientific journals and author or co-author of more than 235 published scientific articles, including during the past year.

Mentorship has always been a joy for Livingston. “There is nothing quite like watching a person grow up, watching them grow their mythical wings, start to think for themselves and start asking questions that take your breath away,” he said in the podcast.

His most famous protege, Kaelin, who won the 2019 Nobel Prize in Medicine, approached Livingston in 1987 and asked if he could complete his postdoctoral fellowship with him. “David taught me the art of experimental design – how to design really effective and insightful experiments that get to the heart of a question. He really helped me think like a scientist.

In addition to his wife, Emily, and daughter Catherine, of Washington, DC, Livingston leaves another daughter, Julie Livingston, of New York; one stepson, Jeremy Maltby, of Washington, DC, and five grandchildren.


The author is senior science writer at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.


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