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The Prostate 39:223–225 (1999)
Preface
Dr. Donald Straley Coffey
James Buchanan Brady Urological Institute
The Johns Hopkins University Hospital
Donald Straley Coffey is a phenomenon. A phenomenon is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “an
object known through the senses rather than by
thought or nonsensuous intuition.” Anyone who has
the good fortune of spending time with Don Coffey
quickly understands that he is definitely experienced
through the senses. Don’s personality is multifaceted,
combining spirituality, unique insights, wisdom, generosity and compassion with intelligence, a legendary
sense of humor, and lightning-quick wit. Indeed,
Don’s favorite personal symbol is a lightning bolt!
Don’s scientific accomplishments include, but are
not limited to, major discoveries in the areas of: 1)
androgen action within the prostate, 2) the structural
organization of the nucleus (i.e., he discovered and
© 1999 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
coined the term “nuclear matrix” to describe the structural proteins critical in composing the nucleus of the
cell), 3) the structural organization of whole tissue (i.e.,
tissue matrix), 4) genetic and epigenetic instability involved in carcinogenesis, 5) the cell biology of motility
required for the invasive and metastatic ability of cancer cells, and 6) the chaotic nature of biology. Don’s
insistence upon the statement that “if this is true, what
does it imply” has led to his particular genius for converting basic science discoveries into important practical insights and applications. As just one example,
once Don discovered the nuclear matrix, he quickly
realized that changes in the nuclear matrix of cancer
cells resulted in the aberration in nuclear shape characteristic of cancer cells. Therefore, these differences
224
Preface
could be quantitated to provide an objective parameter to predict the aggressiveness of individual cancers. This approach has not only led to the development of “nuclear roundness” measurements, but to his
pioneering use of what is now termed “proteomics
analysis” to document changes in specific nuclear matrix proteins and, based upon these specific changes,
to predict the malignant behavior of individual cancers. Don’s practical side likewise led him to the development and characterization of a series of appropriate preclinical models to critically study normal
and abnormal growth of the prostate. These models
include not only the Dunning system of rat prostate
cancers but also the use of the beagle to study benign
prostate growth. In all of these endeavors it has been
Don’s quest to translate the information learned from
these animal models as quickly as possible into appropriate clinical trials. Indeed, Don has been a strong
believer in the motto of another great prostate scientist, Charles Brenton Huggins, who stated that “the
thing about cancer is to cure it.”
Don’s other genius has been his ability to sight the
“brightest and best” students during their formative
years, well before others see their promise and to gently but purposely challenge these individuals to dedicate their life’s energy to making a positive difference
in the world, regardless of whether this is in the area
of science, medicine, or elsewhere. Using both inspiration and large quantities of humor, he has worked
untiringly to invite all of us to join him as colleagues
in a life’s journey as a “seeker” of knowledge. Based
upon this challenge, many of the people Don has
touched are actively involved in making the world
better, even if they are not working in the area of the
prostate and its diseases. The subset of people who
have chosen the field of the prostate, however, is impressive. In fact, there is a disproportionate number of
individuals in the area of prostate research who can
trace their genetics back to the “founder effect” of having been initially touched by Don Coffey both in and
outside of the Johns Hopkins community. Indeed, Don
has provided national impact during his service on
NIH study sections, editorial boards of journals, and
advisory panels to academic organizations too numerous to recount. This is in addition to having been initially a member of the working cadre (1971–1977,
1979–1983) and eventually chairman (1984–1988) of
the National Prostatic Cancer Working Group of the
Organ System Program of the NCI, as well as serving
as president of the Society for Basic Urological Research (1989–1990) and most recently as president of
the American Association for Cancer Research (1997–
1998).
It was during this latter position that Don “went to
Washington” where, due to his unique combination of
personality and perseverance, he was able to effectively lobby Congress and the President to double the
NCI budget. While many individuals were involved
in this momentous accomplishment, no one worked
harder or more effectively than Don for this critical
goal.
Throughout all these accomplishments, the entire
Coffey family has been involved. Everyone who
knows Don well, acknowledges the critical role of
Don’s wife, Eula Coffey, in these accomplishments.
Eula is the personification of the song “Stand by Your
Man.” Her strength and love have allowed Don not
only to survive but thrive under stresses to which
most would have collapsed. Eula, along with their
children Kathy and Carol, have generously shared
Don with his extended scientific family. Don has never
put his family second. His solution has always been to
include his scientific colleagues in his family outings.
These outings are legendary for their fun and collegiality as well as their educational impact. (You never
know when you may have to build a rocket!)
If Don Coffey has a fault, it is that he cannot take a
compliment easily. Don is embarrassed when people
praise him, and probably will feel somewhat awkward when he reads this introduction. This is okay,
however, since the truth often hurts. Don has earned
our highest admiration and love. Don is truly a hero
who with his integrity, honor, courage, and humor has
never failed to inspire those fortunate enough to have
crossed his path. Don has made each of us the better
for his touch. Pass it on!
John T. Isaacs, Ph.D.
Department of Oncology and Urology
Johns Hopkins Oncology Center
Baltimore, Maryland
It was a fortunate day for the James Buchanan
Brady Urological Institute and The Johns Hopkins
University School of Medicine and Science when Donald S. Coffey made the decision to change his line of
endeavor. In 1959, Don answered an advertisement in
the Baltimore Sun for a substitute to direct the Brady
Research Laboratory while then head, Charles Tesar,
was spending a year in research as a Fullbright Fellow
in Belgium with Albert Claude. Don previously was
employed at Westinghouse and had a college degree
but no experience in medicine. As he said to me then,
“I want to cure cancer!” I intimated that to do so, he
would be wise to obtain advanced training in the basic
medical sciences. He considered the idea, and after his
year heading our research, began working toward his
Ph.D. in Pharmacology under Leslie Hellerman at
Johns Hopkins, obtaining his Ph.D. degree in 1964.
Some ten years later he returned to the Brady to head
Preface
the Laboratory of Reproductive Biology chaired by
Guy Williams-Ashman. At about that time, Patrick
Walsh succeeded me as Chairman of Urology. A few
years later Doctor Coffey became Director of the Research Laboratory.
It became abundantly clear that Don Coffey was a
man of many talents. These were recorded by his unusual success in academia, as he became in turn a full
professor in four departments: urology, oncology,
pharmacology and molecular sciences and pathology,
the last on July 1, 1998.
His research interests are not a subject of this introduction. They are well known to those with similar
interests. He is a great man and will be most difficult
to replace when the time comes for him to retire. They
225
don’t make many Don Coffeys. Hence, he is dearly
referred to by his associates as “The Chief.”
William W. Scott, M.D.
Professor of Urology 1946-1974
Professor Emeritus 1978Dr. Donald Coffey is a founding member of The
Prostate. Since its inception he has actively participated in our editorial meetings, peer review, and other
scientific contributions. The dedication of this issue to
him is a mark of our overall respect, affection, and
appreciation.
Members of the Editorial Board
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