Dr. Martin D. Abeloff, an internationally recognized oncologist who led the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center for 15 years, died of leukemia yesterday at the hospital where he spent most of his professional career. The Mount Washington resident was 65.
An advocate of mammography as a means of reducing breast cancer mortality rates, he spent much of his professional career working to apply research findings to everyday medicine. Under his leadership, some 30,000 outpatients visited his center a year.
"Marty was that iconic Hopkins physician, scientist, educator, leader and good citizen rolled into one," said Dr. Edward D. Miller, dean and chief executive officer of Johns Hopkins Medicine. "He was there for his patients, his residents and fellows, his colleagues and, at so many challenging times, the institution he graced for so long."
"All of the Johns Hopkins Medicine family will miss his presence and his wisdom," said Ronald R. Peterson, president of the Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System. "He was the consummate quiet man who worked tirelessly to achieve greatness in his field."
"His contributions to the state of the science, in the use of mammography and in techniques to screen for breast cancer risk factors transformed prevention efforts," said Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni and Dr. John E. Niederhuber in a joint statement. They are the directors of the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute, respectively.
They recalled him as "a supporter, a wise counselor, and always a consummate professional and gentleman" who tried "to solve the mysteries of cancer so that future generations won't have to suffer unnecessarily."
In a recent Johns Hopkins newsletter article, Dr. Abeloff credited his cancer center's growth and advances to the faculty and staff, counting himself "lucky" to work among individuals who made coming to work "an absolute joy."
"He was the ultimate role model," said friend and Hopkins colleague Dr. Stephen Baylin, professor of oncology who is the Kimmel Center's deputy director.
"What he didn't know, he took the time to learn. And with a combination of qualities best summarized as wisdom, he helped transform both the treatment of cancer and the way that Johns Hopkins delivers that care. These are his legacies," Dr. Baylin said.
Martin David Abeloff was born in Shenandoah, Pa.. He was the son of a pharmacist and attended Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., on a five-year program that led to a medical degree from Hopkins in 1966. After residency and fellowship training in Boston's Beth Israel Hospital and Tufts-New England Medical Center, Dr. Abeloff returned to Baltimore for an oncology fellowship at Hopkins.
He joined the school's oncology faculty in 1972 and focused on lung and breast cancer research, He then headed the medical oncology department before directing the cancer center, according to his biography.
A Hopkins spokesman said that during his 15-year tenure as cancer center director, Dr. Abeloff doubled the size of the center's faculty, increased research funding six-fold since 1992 and saw it ranked third among the nation's top cancer centers in U.S. News & World Report surveys.
"I always called on him before I made important decisions," said Dr. Miller, the Hopkins dean and chief executive. "His ego was never in the way. His faculty loved him."
Dr. Abeloff wrote many scientific articles and several books relating to cancer.
He was found to have a type of leukemia in August 2006. He worked through June of this year and received a bone-marrow transplant in July.
In his free time, Dr. Abeloff enjoyed reading. He also spent time at his Broadkill Beach home, where he watched birds along the Delaware Bay.
Funeral services will be held at 1 p.m. tomorrow at Sol Levinson and Bros., 8900 Reisterstown Road.
Survivors include his wife of 41 years, the former Diane Kaufman, a freelance medical illustrator; two daughters, Elisa Abeloff of Philadelphia and Jennifer Abeloff of Coconut Grove, Fla.; a sister, Marilyn Fox of Harrisburg, Pa.; and three grandchildren.