Angela Brodie, breast cancer research pioneer credited with saving the lives of thousands, dies at 92

Angela Hartley Brodie, a scientist whose research improved treatments for breast cancer and was credited with helping save the lives of thousands of women, has died of complication from Parkinson’s disease. She was 82.

The English-born biochemist and pharmacologist did work that helped prolong the lives of breast cancer patients by inhibiting the disease's path in women whose tumors had failed to shrink after undergoing conventional treatments.

"Dr. Angela Brodie's impact on the treatment of breast cancer has been unparalleled. It is because of her work that a disease that was once almost a certain death sentence can now, for many, be successfully treated and managed," said Dr. E. Albert Reece, dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, where Bodie was a professor emeritus.

Her discovery, a drug called an aromatase inhibitor, was initially met with skepticism.

"We presented our data at the National Institutes of Health, and they brought up one objection after another," said her husband, Dr. Harry Brodie, a bio-organic chemist, with whom she often worked.

"Then we happened to go to a meeting in Europe and we ran into Charles Coombes. He said, 'Send me the material. I can do it.' He had 11 patients in London, and they responded."

Some 30% of the London patients saw their cancers go into remission. The finding directed scientists and drug companies to other chemicals and strategies that help block the growth of breast cancer.

Brodie told her colleagues that as a young woman, she attended a slide lecture about radical mastectomies for women with breast cancer devised more than 100 years ago.

"She was horrified. She thought it was a butcher shop and she said to herself, 'There has to be better way,'" said Dr. Margaret McCarthy, her department chair. "The better way was to understand the science behind the cancer. She used her science to starve the cancer cells of the estrogen that was fueling their growth."

Born Angela Hartley in Manchester, England, on Sept. 28, 1934, Bodie earned a degree at the University of Sheffield before becoming a laboratory research assistant in the department of hormone research at Manchester's Christie Cancer Hospital. There she developed her interest in estrogen-dependent breast cancer before she received a doctorate from the University of Manchester.

She later conducted research at the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology in Shrewsbury, Mass., in the 1960s and ’70s, and joined the faculty of the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1979. She worked there until her retirement last year.

In addition to her husband of 52 years, survivors include a son, Mark Brodie, and two grandchildren. Another son, Dr. John Hartley Brodie, died in 2006.

Kelly writes for the Baltimore Sun.

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