Joseph R. Bertino, MD, a past president of the AACR and a Fellow of the AACR Academy whose research on drug resistance led to lifesaving new treatments for leukemia and lymphoma, died October 11, 2021, at the age of 91.
Born in Port Chester, New York, on August 16, 1930, Bertino earned his medical degree from the State University of New York Downstate Medical School in Brooklyn in 1954. After a fellowship at the University of Washington, he joined the faculty of Yale University School of Medicine in 1961 and served there until 1987. His tenure included serving from 1973 to 1975 as director of the Yale Cancer Center. He then joined Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and worked there until he joined the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey in 2002. At Rutgers, he was senior adviser to the director of the cancer institute and University Professor of Medicine and Pharmacology at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
From the early days of his career, Bertino’s research focused on drug resistance, particularly as it pertained to methotrexate, a chemotherapeutic agent for blood cancers and various other malignancies. Bertino and colleagues reported that dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) gene amplification was an important driver of methotrexate resistance. These seminal findings helped explain why some cancer drugs work, while others fail, and paved the way for new cancer treatment regimens to be introduced into the clinic. Bertino’s research dedicated to hematologic malignancies led to his becoming closely involved with the Lymphoma Research Foundation, where he served as founding chair of the organization’s Scientific Advisory Board. In recent years, his research was dedicated to novel drug development for solid tumors and drug target identification for rare lymphomas.
Bertino was the author or coauthor of more than 400 scientific publications. He served for many years on the editorial boards of Cancer Research and Clinical Cancer Research, and was the founding editor-in-chief of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
Bertino joined the AACR in 1962 and was a passionate supporter of many AACR initiatives. He served on numerous AACR standing and specialty committees, including the Development Committee, International Affairs Committee, Ad Hoc By-Laws Revisions Committee, Nominating Committee, Clinical Cancer Research Committee, AACR-Women in Cancer Research Charlotte Friend Memorial Lectureship Committee, and Finance and Audit Committee.
Also, Bertino cochaired the 1997 AACR-ASCO Joint Conference, Basic and Clinical Aspects of Lymphoma. He served as both member and chair of the AACR Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Award Committee, AACR Landon Translational Prize Selection Committee, and AACR Award for Lifetime Achievement in Cancer Research Committee. He also served several terms on the AACR Margaret Foti Award for Leadership and Extraordinary Achievement Committee. He served as a mentor for the Scientist↔Survivor Program in 2000 and the Women in Cancer Research Professional Advancement Session series in 2010. He was also a member of the AACR’s Women in Cancer Research Constituency Group.
From 1976 to 1979, Bertino served on the AACR Board of Directors. He was elected AACR President for the 1995-1996 term. During his presidency, he manifested his usual innovative spirit by initiating the AACR’s fundraising efforts for grants to young investigators, the first being contributed by Amgen for a clinical translational research fellowship. He also launched the Education Program at the Annual Meeting, which continues to be a hallmark component of the meeting attended by thousands of researchers.
Among many career accolades, Bertino received the AACR Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Award in 1978, the AACR-Joseph H. Burchenal Memorial Award for Outstanding Achievement in Clinical Cancer Research in 2008, and the AACR Award for Lifetime Achievement in Cancer Research in 2018. He was elected to the inaugural class of Fellows of the AACR Academy in 2013. He also served as president of the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in 1975, making him one of the few individuals to have served as President of both AACR and ASCO. He was later named an ASCO Fellow and was recognized with ASCO’s David A. Karnofsky Memorial Award in 1992. He was also named a “Giant of Cancer Care” by OncLive in 2018.
“Dr. Bertino was an early pioneer in the area of translational research. He sought to build bridges between the laboratory and the clinic, benefiting the lives of thousands of patients,” said Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc), chief executive officer of the AACR. “His steadfast dedication to the AACR included tireless advocacy for the professional development and career advancement of women in the field. He will be sorely missed.”
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