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Garon - Kaner/Karon/Canner - Horwitz - Lieberman/Kremen –
Hertz - Fritchell - Tatkin - Pasternack/Poster
On May 3, 1954, Dr. Ira T. Nathanson lectured to
second-year students at the Harvard Medical School
on "The Natural History of Cancer," a subject on which
he was a great authority. He finished his lecture and
was leaving the amphitheater when he collapsed and
died. He died of coronary heart disease at the earlv age
In spite of his comparative youth, Ira Nathanson
had established himself as an outstanding investigator
in cancer research and cancer surgery. He had one con
suming object in lifeâ€”the conquest of cancerâ€”and he
devoted his whole working life to this problem.
His boyhood was spent in the city of his birth, Vir
ginia, Minnesota, where he received his early training.
He was a bright scholar and an outstanding debater.
Later, he went on to study at the University of Penn
sylvania where he excelled academically and also par
ticipated in football. Following this, he attended North
western Medical School in Chicago where he received
an M.D. and M.S. degree, followed by 5 years of train
ing at the Michael RÂ«eseHospital.
In 1934 and 1935 he was associated with the Pondville
Hospital in Massachusetts. It was at this time that
he was attracted to the work of the Collis P. Huntington
Memorial Hospital, particularly the research on the
relation of internal secretions to cancer. And so he came
to the Huntington Laboratoriesâ€”this was to be his
He worked very hard as a surgeon, studying the
natural course of cancer and how it was influenced by
surgery and x-ray. And in addition to his work in sur
gery, he found time to analyze the activity of the inter
nal secretions of his patients. For years he went through
the arduous analyses, separating the sex hormones
chemically with the relatively crude methods of that
period. The laboratory was small, his technical help
limited, but his insatiable desire to accumulate data
drove him to work unceasingly. And gradually a greater
understanding emerged of the relation of the sex hor
mones to cancer of sex-linked organs.
Ira Nathanson's course was not one without inter
ruption. A bout with tuberculosis forced him to rest
for a period of 6 months. Surmounting it, he returned
to his work with renewed determination and intensified
When the Huntington Memorial Hospital moved to
the Massachusetts General Hospital in February 1942,
Dr. Nathanson, of course, came too. Insistent that he
was primarily a surgeon, he was attached to its surgical
service. In the intervening years, he became Associate
Clinical Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical
School, Associate Surgeon at the Massachusetts Gen
eral Hospital, Executive Secretary of the Tumor Clinic,
and Surgeon at Pondville Hospital. He has been the Co
ordinator of Cancer Teaching and also served on the
University Committee for Cancer Research and Train
ing at the Harvard Medical School.
During the war, the Huntington Laboratories de
voted then- efforts to the study of wound shock. To this
Dr. Nathanson contributed materially. When the emer
gency was over, his mind again focused on the thera
peutic effects of the sex hormones on cancer of the breast
and prostateâ€”in other terms, the reaction of tumors
to their environment. As financial support increased, he
had a series of distinguished associates who collaborated
with him in his work and eliminated the need for his
doing laborious chemical analyses. Out of these efforts
emerged a clear delineation of beneficial and injurious
effects which can be elicited by administering sex hor
mones to cancer patients. There was also other work
on analogous linesâ€”work on animals.
Over the years there were great demands for him
to serve on medical and scientific boards. He served as
Chairman of the Therapeutic Trials Panel of the Ameri
can Medical Association and member of the Committee
on Growth, and Chairman of the Committee of Cancer
Diagnosis and Therapy of the National Research Coun
cil. His tremendous interest and great conscientiousness
led him to accept such assignments without hesitation.
Needless to say, he soon became overwhelmed by ad
ministrative work. He was universally sought after as
a wise counselor and able director of committee delibera
tions, and a dynamic lecturer. With ever increasing de
mands upon him, he added these new responsibilities to
an already very full life, for this was the way Ira
Nathanson wanted to spend his life.
Students and interns loved him, because teaching
was one of his great pleasures, and he did it outstand
ingly well. He was never too busy to teach young men.
From an undergraduate at the Medical School came
the words: "Ira Nathanson, a scholar, was a great teach
er, for his students loved him." All his students and
patients were devoted to him, because of his loyalty,
helpfulness, and understanding. His capacity for friend
ship was tremendous. One came to realize this when
his death stimulated the verbal appreciation of his
Dr. Nathanson's one consuming interest was his
work, with a great loyalty to his Hospital and his
adopted University. He allowed few things to divert
him from his dominant interest. His other great interest
was his parents, and the care of them. Throughout his
life he maintained a great devotion to his family.
That he had the strength to carry on as he did gives
some comfort. Ill health would not have become him.
Ira Nathanson gave much to the world; he still had
much to give.