McArdle Blog ~ 10/1/2014

McArdle 75th Anniversary

Looking back...looking forward
75 years of cancer research at UW-Madison, Part II

As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research and look forward to an exciting future full of promise, it seems appropriate that we continue to also look back at the early days of McArdle Labs and recognize the people whose passion and efforts were seminal in establishing and nurturing this institution.

In our previous post we followed Dr. Roswell Boutwell as he took a walk down memory lane and talked about how a “core” group of individuals had played key roles in establishing the first cancer research program at the University of Wisconsin, and in fact the Midwest. We had just started talking about Drs. James “Jim” and Elizabeth “Bette” Miller, and that’s where we will pick up our story again.

Millers 1950

Among the Millers’ many scientific contributions was their discovery that most chemical carcinogens need to undergo further metabolic changes within our body to get ‘activated’. In fact, some of these ‘chemically activated’ compounds are what go on to induce mutations in our cells’ DNA and can lead to various kinds of cancers. 

While talking about the Millers, Dr. Boutwell emphasized that though each was a highly proficient scientist in his and her own right the Millers operated often as a team. He stressed that they complemented each other, they were each in tune with the other’s work, and they often relied on the other’s professional expertise. 

It was clear that Dr. Boutwell considered the Millers to be close colleagues and friends, and it was touching to hear the tenderness and sorrow with which he spoke of their passing from cancer. 

Finally, Dr. Boutwell spoke about his arrival at McArdle in 1945.  At that time Dr. Boutwell had just finished his graduate training in the Biochemistry Department at UW-Madison, and coincidentally, Dr. Rusch had been seeking someone with knowledge in nutrition to study effects of diet on cancer formation. And so began Dr. Boutwell’s long and fruitful association with McArdle Laboratory.

Boutwell 1947

In addition to his work on nutrition and carcinogenesis, Dr. Boutwell has made great advances in the field of tumor promotion. He talked about beginning to appreciate the role of hormones in different cancers and how the early questions about the contributions of hormones in prostate cancer were formulated at this time. 

Of course Dr. Boutwell shared with us many of the strong relationships he had developed with other faculty members of the program.

While telling these stories, Dr. Boutwell briefly spoke, with fondness and tenderness, of his personal relationship with his wife, Louise, or “Lou”. In hearing Dr. Boutwell’s stories, it became clear that he truly treasured the many relationships he had developed while at McArdle.

Other members of the McArdle family have considered Dr. Boutwell to be a particularly special colleague. Whenever a fellow colleague may be in need of assistance, he has been consistently available to help. 

Hearing of how Dr. Boutwell is remembered by his colleagues helped me realize that McArdle was built not only by its research output, but also by individuals such as Dr. Boutwell who made significant personal contributions to the program. 

McArdle, 2nd building

An hour is simply not enough” said Dr. Boutwell, lamenting his lack of time to recognize every person involved in the early days of McArdle Laboratory. He emphasized that there were many names that he did not have a chance to introduce, but he was happy to be able to highlight the roles of Drs. Rusch, Potter, James Miller, Elizabeth Miller, and himself in establishing the program that remains in existence today, 75 years later. 

Sadly, the sorrow that Dr. Boutwell felt about the Millers also punctuated his talk since, of the “Core” members, he alone survives.  Yet, it was clear to us how grateful he was to have been able to spend much of his career with such remarkable colleagues.

He was pleased and excited to be able to speak to us at length about them and their contributions to the cancer research program at UW-Madison and to the field of cancer research itself. 

For me, it was a true pleasure to be a member of the audience and hear Dr. Boutwell’s recollections. Experiences like this one help me and my fellow students and post-docs appreciate the opportunity to be a part of the excellent scientific program here at the McArdle Laboratory.

~Alex Torres Law
~Rup Chakravorty
(Photos courtesy of Bette Sheehan)