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Medal of Honor recipient Isaiah J. Fidler, DVM, PhD, dies at age 83

​He was a pioneer and leader in the study of cancer metastasis

Isaiah J. Fidler, DVM, PhD, the 2013 recipient of the ACS Medal of Honor for Basic Research for his discoveries and contributions to the treatment of cancer metastasis, passed away May 8 at his home in Houston after a long illness. He was 83.

A professor in cell biology and director of MD Anderson’s Metastasis Research Laboratory, Dr. Fidler was internationally renowned for exposing the origins of metastasis, the processes by which these cells spread and thrive in other organs, the molecular diversity that makes them so hard to treat, and the supporting role of their surrounding micro-environment. 

Known to friends as Josh, Dr. Fidler came to MD Anderson in 1983, serving as the founding chair of Cancer Biology until 2008. He is a past president of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), and was inducted into the AACR Academy.  

Dr. Fidler was born in Jerusalem on Dec. 4, 1936 to Shoshana Stern and Pinchas Fidler. His father, a world renown soccer player, died in Israel's war of independence in 1948. After attending school and serving in the Israeli army, Dr. Fidler came to America to study veterinary medicine.

In 1963, Dr. Fidler earned his veterinary medicine degree from Oklahoma State University. He worked as a surgical oncologist at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine, and in 1970 he earned a doctoral degree in human pathology at the university's School of Medicine. His experience as a veterinary surgeon taught him that the deadliness of cancer is mainly due to the ability of cancer cells to spread, or metastasize, to other organs, so he devoted his career to the study of metastasis at a time when no one else was focusing on this topic.

 In 1975, Dr. Fidler joined the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), where he led the metastasis program at the Frederick Cancer Research Facility. His eight years there produced some of his early innovative work in unraveling the riddles of how cancer spreads.

In 1983, Dr. Fidler joined The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center as professor and founding chair of Cancer Biology, a department he led until 2008. Dr. Fidler held the R.E. "Bob' Smith Distinguished Chair in Cell Biology. For many more years, he continued his academic pursuits and leadership responsibilities, which included his role as director of MD Anderson's Cancer Metastasis Research Center and Metastasis Research Laboratory. In 2019, Dr. Fidler fully retired and was appointed the prestigious title of professor emeritus.

Dr. Fidler's career of more than 50 years includes more than 820 publications in peer-reviewed journals. He oversaw numerous former trainees and mentees who now hold faculty leadership positions in research institutions around the world.

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