With a lecture and the rededication of a conference room Tuesday, the Yale Cancer Center honored Paul Calabresi ’51 MED ’55, a former Yale professor and pioneer in cancer research who passed away in 2003.
As part of the Paul Calabresi Memorial Lectureship, Waun Ki Hong — the head of the department of cancer medicine at the University of Texas — spoke to about 100 students and faculty on the topic of recent developments in cancer research. The lecture, held at the Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven Hospital, followed a small ceremony, attended by Calabresi’s colleagues and family, to rededicate the Calabresi Conference Room in the Yale Cancer Center.
Those present at the events called Calabresi not just a pioneer in the field of chemotherapy, but also a friend and mentor.
“He was one of the first to use drugs to treat cancer,” said Vincent DeVita, a former director of the Yale Cancer Center and longtime friend of Calabresi. He said Calabresi was instrumental in founding the field of medical oncology in the ’60s and early ’70s.
Due to Calabresi’s work, Yale was one of the first medical facilities to administer chemotherapy in those decades, said Tom Lynch ’82 MED ’86, the current director of the Yale Cancer Center and physician in chief of Smilow.
But DeVita added that, for many who knew Calabresi, his personal qualities were just as important as his scientific prowess. Devita called Calabresi a multifaceted person, adding that he was just as likely to talk about opera as cancer research.
Hong, who was also present at the rededication, said Calabresi influenced him early in his career to pursue cancer research.
“He was really able to inspire people to do good work. He was a good cheerleader,” Hong said.
Since first meeting Calabresi in 1975, Hong has become an influential researcher in the field of cancer prevention, and in 2001 he became the president of the American Association for Cancer Research. His lecture Tuesday focused on new methods of preventative cancer treatment, particularly the use of genetic analysis to provide tailored treatments to patients. He began by thanking his former friend and mentor.
Although Calabresi left Yale in 1968, his focus on cancer research has remained an important part of the University, Lynch said. Yale is actively researching many of the new treatments Hong described in his lecture, Lynch said.
Calabresi’s brother, Guido Calabresi, a Sterling Professor Emeritus and former dean of Yale Law School, was also present at the lecture. Like the other speakers, he emphasized the importance of his brother’s personal qualities. He related how, even when his brother was undergoing treatment in a hospital near the end of his life, he still kept tabs on other patients and made recommendations.
“He was always a doctor concerned with patients as much as he was a scientist,” Calabresi said.
Paul Calabresi’s son Peter Calabresi ’84, who also attended the rededication, is a professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.