Dr. Giulio J. D’Angio, University of Pennsylvania Professor Emeritus of Radiation Oncology, died peacefully at home this past Friday September 14th surrounded by his family.
Born on May 2, 1922, Dan was a true giant in several medical specialties: diagnostic radiology, radiation oncology, pediatric oncology and cancer survivorship. The second son of Italian immigrants, Dan was raised in Brooklyn, earned an undergraduate degree at Columbia University and then enrolled at Harvard, where, as he said, he was “the only Italian-American in his class.” His training was interrupted by World War II where he served in the Pacific theatre, and then remarkably by a brief stint in Florence to study the classics prior to returning to Boston. He was trained by world-renowned surgeons, radiologists and other physicians, and then joined the nascent efforts at Boston Children’s Hospital with Sydney Farber to usher in the era of chemotherapy for children and adults with cancer. One of Dan’s most important early contributions was demonstrating how radiation therapy and chemotherapy can act synergistically, and was responsible for some of the first cures of metastatic Wilms tumor (kidney cancer) in children.
Perhaps Dan’s most important professional achievements arose from his humble and collegial spirit. Dan had the vision to bring multi-disciplinary investigators together by founding the National Wilms Tumor Study (NWTS) Group in 1969. Although combination therapy was able to bring about cures in this pediatric tumor, Dan recognized the harmful effects on young children, of radiation therapy and courageously organized the first randomized clinical trial that eliminated this curative but harmful modality. He was proven correct and subsequent clinical trials adhered to his famous admonition to oncologists: “Cure is not enough.” As pediatric oncologists became more successful he led the efforts to understand the harmful consequences of cancer therapy in young children, and organized efforts to avoid them. Early in his career, he learned from Dr. Farber that families with a sick child require consideration of total care and sought ways to reduce the psychosocial and economic burdens of childhood cancer. The lessons from his leadership have been applied across the landscape of pediatric cancers and have had an impact on the care of patients and families.
After being recruited to Penn and CHOP in the late 1960’s, he solidified his life-long collaboration with Dr. Audrey Evans and made immeasurable impact on children and families in the Philadelphia region. Working with Dr. C. Everett Koop, they described the remarkable spontaneous regression of an identifiable subset of neuroblastoma in infants and together they developed a staging system that is largely the one we use today. Drs. D’Angio and Evans were married just before her 80th birthday, and they were an inseparable partnership. Dan led the Childhood Cancer Research Center at CHOP and built the foundation for the current “bench-to-bedside and back” research efforts across our campus today.
He was the founder of several currently robust organizations, including the Society for Pediatric Radiology, the Pediatric Radiation Oncology Society, the Histiocyte Society and the Late Effects Study Group, which ultimately led to the Office of Cancer Survivorship at the National Institutes of Health, and served as president of the International Society of Pediatric Oncology in 1986-7. He mentored hundreds of young investigators from across the world creating what could be called the D’Angio’s International family and published over 500 manuscripts, some of which remain absolute classics in the field.
Dan had an international impact. He became full member of SIOP during the 4th SIOP Annual Meeting held in Manchester 1972, four years after the Society was found. He was among the first North American doctors accepted as a full member in the society. Since then, the story of this society has been marked by his presence, by his extraordinary stature of clinical scientist, by his vision, by his determination and commitment but, above all, by his unique capacity of building global human and scientific networks, which do represent one of his main legacy to the Society. He served SIOP as a President between 1986 and 1986, he edited for many years its international journal, he promoted a series of worldwide collaborative research and education efforts. His last contribution to SIOP is dated in 2015, at the age of 93, when he published in a special 50-page long edition of Pediatric Blood and Cancer, “the history of SIOP”. Finally, On October 12, 2018 in Washington, during the opening ceremony of the 48th Annual Meeting, SIOP acknowledged his tremendous contribution to the field of Pediatric Oncology and to the life of the Society with a special prize: the Life-time Achievement Awards. Needless to say that Dr. Audrey Evans was on the stage with him, at the same time, also awarded with the same prize for the same reasons.
While there are many professional achievements, Dan was internationally known as the ultimate gentleman—kind, polite and always most interested in what others had to say. His family always came first, and he was blessed with two sons, two grandchildren and two great grandchildren that enjoyed visits to his Rittenhouse square balcony. A voracious reader, he could hold court on a remarkable breadth of subjects from the arts to military history. When asked by a reporter once what gave him the most satisfaction in his professional career; his simple reply was “To get a letter from one of my patients saying that she’s had a baby”.
Dr. Evans composed an epitaph to his life shortly after his death: “Dan’s eyes have closed. They will open in a better world than this. Our love travels with him. He will be greatly missed.”
John M. Maris, MD
Giulio D’Angio Professor of Pediatrics
James M. Metz, MD
Professor and Chair of Radiation Oncology
President of SIOP
Past President of SIOP & Head Global Advocacy
Member of Dan’s International family