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Fishman, William H. OAC

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Biographical History

William Fishman was born in Winnipeg, Canada, on March 2, 1914, and grew up in Manitoba on the Canadian prairies. He received his degree with high honors in chemistry in 1935 from the University of Saskatchewan and was granted his Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1939 from the University of Toronto. Before receiving his doctorate, Fishman published three sole author papers in the JOURNAL OF BIOLOGICAL CHEMISTRY.

In 1939, William Fishman married Lillian Waterman who was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada on April 28, 1915. She entered the University of Alberta in 1931, focused on a science degree in home economics with her real interest being in biochemistry. Upon graduation, she was accepted as a graduate student at Columbia University, but instead stayed in Calgary, then later was accepted by Montefiore Hospital, New York, in their dietitian training program, where she worked in the tuberculosis wards and taught the nurses about nutrition.

In 1938, Professor Marrian at the University of Toronto, for whom William was working, accepted a Professorship of Medical Chemistry at the University of Edinburgh and invited William to apply for a Research Fellowship of the Royal Society of Canada, which he won. After their marriage, William and Lillian departed for Edinburgh, arriving in time to hear that war had broken out in Europe. In 1940, the Fishmans decided to leave Britain after hearing of the German victories across Europe. Back in the U.S., William found work with Dr. V. duVigneuad at Cornell University Medical College in New York City and Lillian worked as a dietitian at New York Hospital.

As William's Royal Society of Canada Fellowship came to an end in 1941, a position at the Bowman-Gray School of Medicine at Wake Forest opened up and William was hired. The Fishmans moved to the Winston-Salem, North Carolina, area and began work under Professor Camillo Artom.

In 1945, William Fishman was hired by the Department of Surgery at the University of Chicago. This opportunity allowed him to study in a biochemical research environment which included scientists Tom Gallagher, E. Guzman Baron, Earl Evans, Konrad Bloch, and Charles Huggins, who later received the Nobel Prize for his work on prostatic cancer.

In 1948, Tufts University sought to attract research oncologists to their faculty and Dr. Gallagher recommended William Fishman. Fishman became the scientific director of the Tufts Cancer Research and Cancer Control Unit, studying tumor markers and doing clinical trials, as well as holding a joint research professorship in the biochemistry department. In 1953, the laboratory had devised a specific method for measuring the acid phosphatase of prostatic origin. The so-called Fishman-Lerner method was highly regarded by urologists and oncologists in helping to solve problems in differential diagnosis. They also discovered the Regan Isoenzyme-a placental alkaline phosphate-named after the cancer patient it was discovered in. In 1975, when reaching retirement age, William Fishman decided it was time to move on from Tufts and find another scientific avenue.

After searching for an established institution, the Fishmans decided to create an new foundation whose sole function was to support oncodevelopmental research. A visit to La Jolla, California, convinced the Fishmans the scientific environment was right for a new research foundation, thus the beginning of the La Jolla Cancer Research Foundation.

In 1976, the La Jolla Cancer Research Foundation began operations in a leased renovated apartment building on South Coast Blvd. in La Jolla. The foundation was first funded by a planning grant from the National Cancer Institute. In 1979, the foundation moved to a space on Torrey Pines Mesa. The foundation received designation as a NCI Basic Science Cancer Research Center, a credential which only two other California institutions shared-The Salk Institute and the California Institute of Technology. William Fishman served as president of the foundation from 1976-1989 and then continued on as an emeritus member of the board of trustees. In 1996, the foundation changed its name to The Burnham Institute and he continued to serve as president emeritus and trustee until his death. In 1995, he published his own account of the founding of the Institute in the book "La Jolla Cancer Research Foundation: The Miracle on Torrey Pines Mesa." Lillian Fishman served in many positions as the foundation was starting and growing, then served as the public relations director. She founded and published the LJCRF Newsletter and created the "Friends of LJCRF" which attracted community support.

William Fishman also started the International Society for Oncodevelopmental Biology and Medicine in 1977 attracting scientists devoted to this branch of cancer research, who had been meeting previously. William Fishman drafted bylaws which were approved by the conference scientists. The La Jolla Cancer Research Foundation was designated as the North American headquarters of the society.

Dr. William Fishman passed away on January 25, 2001, and is survived by his wife, Lillian, to whom he was married 61 years and by a daughter and two sons.

From the finding aid for Lillian W. and William H. Fishman Papers, 1937 - 2006 (University of California, San Diego. Geisel Library. Mandeville Special Collections Library.)

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