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ASCO Remembers Dr. Melvin L. Samuels

May 02, 2011

May 2011: The Society mourns the loss of testicular cancer research pioneer Melvin L. Samuels, MD—a member of ASCO since 1965—who died January 23, 2011, at the age of 88.

Derek Raghavan, MD, President of the Levine Cancer Institute, described Dr. Samuels in a letter to ASCO leadership as a “giant in the field” whose work paved the way for the platinum-based chemotherapy regimen that dramatically increased survival rates for patients with testicular cancer.

Dr. Samuels joined the staff of M. D. Anderson Center in 1955 and retired in 1986 with the title of Professor of Medicine, Chief, Section of General Medicine and Clinical Oncology, Department of Medicine, according to his obituary in the Houston Chronicle.

His colleague, Christopher J. Logothetis, MD, Chairman and Professor, Department of Genitourinary Medical Oncology, M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, submitted the following tribute for publication in ASCO Connection.

Dr. Samuels stands among the pioneers of the Texas Medical Center for his contributions to the conquest of testicular cancer. The city and nation should be proud of his life’s work.

In the early days of oncology at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, discoveries in testicular cancer breached the wall of solid tumors. We were striving with little success to mirror the advances in childhood cancers in the more common solid tumors of adults. Suddenly, the once-impenetrable wall seemed vulnerable—the effect was electric.  Those of us who were privileged to witness a magical moment in medical history recognized its significance. Dr. Samuels’ principles of detailed knowledge and dedicated work became the foundation for success. Perhaps more importantly, he created in us the confidence to overcome the challenges of cancer. Many of today’s achievements in cancer therapy are modeled on his approach. Thousands of young men are alive today because of Dr. Samuels.

Melvin Samuels was comfortable living in relative obscurity while he quietly pursued his mission. He spent countless hours with patients, encouraging them through the difficult days and nights of treatment. To them, he saved lives and gave them futures they deserved. He deeply mourned those he lost; but rather than be defeated, the experience seemed to strengthen his resolve to conquer cancer.
Melvin Samuels stands among those pioneers who created an outpost of excellence in care in the Texas Medical Center, which has attracted patients seeking promise and hope from around the world.

In this time of rapid health care changes, we must remember that skill, dedication, boldness, and confidence in the scientific method, along with uncompromising self-criticism, are the elements that transform medicine.

In death, Dr. Samuels’ legacy still carries on. Arul M. Chinnaiyan, MD, PhD, of the University of Michigan, is recipient of the 16th Annual Melvin L. Samuels Award for Excellence in Patient Care, and presented an accompanying lecture on April 29 in Dallas, Texas. The award is a part of the M. D. Anderson Center’s Recognition and Awards Program, which pays tribute to faculty who have been recognized by their M. D. Anderson colleagues as outstanding in their respective fields.

Dr. Samuels is survived by his wife of 58 years, Estelle; his children and their spouses—Douglas Samuels (Karen), Lynn Samuels (Fred Morales), William Samuels (Peggy), Patti Smith (Eric), and Tracey Samuels (Robert McNamara); and grandchildren Patrick and Ryan Samuels, Emily and Jacob Samuels, and Rachel, Rebecca, and Zachary Smith.

A photo gallery of Dr. Samuels can be found on DignityMemorial.com.

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