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George Moore Cancer Research Pioneer


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George Moore, 88; doctor linked mouth cancer to chewing tobacco

By Thomas H. Maugh II, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

June 18, 2008

Dr. George E. Moore, the cancer researcher who was among the first to link chewing tobacco to mouth cancer and who built the Roswell Park Memorial Institute in Buffalo, N.Y., into a major cancer research center, died May 19 in Conifer, Colo. He was 88.

The cause of death was bladder cancer, according to his family.

George E. MooreMoore also discovered the use of fluorescent and radioactive materials to diagnose and localize brain tumors, was a pioneer in the use of chemotherapy to treat breast cancer, and developed techniques for growing tumor cells in a laboratory.

When Moore did his first studies of tobacco chewing in the 1950s, there was little strong evidence linking smoking and lung cancer and virtually none tying tobacco to other cancers.

In a seminal 1954 paper, Moore and colleagues from Roswell Park and the University of Minnesota reported on 40 men who suffered from oral cancer. They found that 26 of them had chewed tobacco, most for 15 years or longer. The paper presented the first evidence that chewing tobacco could be as lethal as smoking it.

Extending their studies, they also found that many people who chewed but did not yet have mouth cancer had gum irritation and leukoplasia -- white spots or patches on the interior of the mouth that are often a forerunner of cancer.

His discoveries put Moore on the leading edge of tobacco research for more than 15 years, but it was hard work because of the efforts of tobacco companies. When he tried to procure tobacco seedlings so he could grow his own plants, for example, he was unsuccessful until the husband of a woman he had treated for breast cancer provided some.

In his later life, he was pessimistic about his effort.

"With all of our scientific things, working as hard as we did, I don't think we influenced smoking very much," he told the Denver Post. "I think it became a socially accepted thing not to smoke, and that did more to change smoking habits than all of our scientific things."

George Eugene Moore was born Feb. 22, 1920, in Minneapolis. He attended the University of Minnesota, receiving his medical degree in 1947 and a doctorate in surgery in 1950.

He spent his early career at the University of Minnesota Medical School and at age 32 was named head of Roswell Park, then a struggling research institute with two aging buildings.

By the time he left in 1967, the institute, now known as the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, had grown to cover seven city blocks.

"He was a role model for oncologists and a highly successful administrator," said Dr. Donald L. Trump, current president and chief executive of the institute.

Moore left the institute when he was appointed director of public health research for the state of New York. He held the post until 1973, when he moved to Denver to join the University of Colorado School of Medicine. He spent the rest of his career there.

When Moore began his research, the primary treatment for breast cancer was surgical removal of the tumor. In the early 1960s, working with Dr. Rudolph Noer of the University of Louisville, Moore began supplementing surgery with the chemotherapeutic drug thiotepa.

They found that the drug could prevent or delay the recurrence of tumors in many patients. Unfortunately, it also triggered premature menopause; the drug gave way to more effective agents. But their study was among the first to show that chemotherapy could be useful in treating breast tumors.

Moore also developed chemical solutions that could be used to grow tumor cells in a laboratory, refusing to patent the technique so that it could be widely used. In the basement of his Denver office were nearly 1,000 such tumor lines, some of which had been kept alive 20 to 30 years. He called them "patients in a bottle."

Moore had a variety of interests outside oncology. He dabbled in metalworking, creating a 7-foot-tall sculpture of the cross-section of a cell that he displayed in his frontyard.

He also studied the geology of Colorado and was a past president of the Colorado Mineral Society.

He met his wife of 63 years, the former Lorraine P. Hammell, while hitchhiking to an airport outside Minneapolis to take flying lessons.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by two sons, Allan of Acton, Mass., and Donald of Conifer; three daughters, Cathy of Tucson, Laurie of Davis, Calif., and Linda of Golden, Colo.; two brothers, John of Minneapolis and Robert of San Jose; a sister, Elizabeth Severson of Minneapolis; eight grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.


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