By Caitlin Henault
Photography by Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Getty Images
In 2021, the world lost a giant of cancer medicine with the sudden passing of David Livingston, MD. An internationally recognized cancer biologist, Livingston was a renowned expert on the molecular origins of breast and ovarian cancer. Livingston was the Charles A. Dana Chair in Human Cancer Genetics at Dana-Farber and the Emil Frei III, MD, Distinguished Professor of Genetics and Medicine at Harvard Medical School at the time of his death.
Livingston’s research focused on genes that regulate cell growth in the body, and his work has been the cornerstone of many studies of cancer susceptibility linked to BRCA function and mutations. By understanding the tumor suppressive properties of BRCA1 and BRCA2, he paved the way for studying novel approaches to breast and ovarian cancer prevention.
Livingston held numerous leadership positions at Dana-Farber and emphasized collaboration as foundational to major discoveries, including the Bridge Project, which links the cancer research efforts of the Koch Institute for Integrative Research at MIT and Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center. Above all, Livingston served as a valuable mentor, taking more than 200 students, fellows, and junior scientists under his wing throughout his 50-year career at Dana-Farber.
“David was one of the world’s leading scientists, but that only scratches the surface of why he is missed,” said Dana-Farber’s William G. Kaelin Jr., MD, a 2019 Nobel laureate and the Sidney Farber, MD, Professor of Medicine. “David served as my mentor since I first entered his laboratory, where I was immediately inspired by his intellect and infectious enthusiasm. He continued to support me and so many others throughout our careers.”
In an outpouring of support, nearly 200 of his family members, friends, colleagues, collaborators, past trainees, Dana-Farber Trustees, donors, and grant-makers contributed more than $3 million to endow the David M. Livingston, MD, Chair at Dana-Farber in his honor.
“We think that David would appreciate being recognized in this meaningful way,” said Dana-Farber Trustees Debbie and Bob First. “David was responsible for Debbie’s treatment for ovarian cancer in 1977— and why she is here today. We all miss his genius and his humor, but mostly we miss his friendship.”
“We are pleased to support the future scientific accomplishments of this new chair in memory of David, who was a monumental figure in cancer research,” said Caroline Montojo, president and CEO of the Dana Foundation.
“We’ll never be able to replace David’s presence, but this endowed chair honors him by ensuring patients everywhere continue to benefit from his extraordinary legacy.”William G. Kaelin Jr., MD
Pasi Jänne, MD, PhD, director of the Robert and Renée Belfer Center for Applied Cancer Science, the Carole M. and Philip L. Lowe Center for Thoracic Oncology, and the Chen-Huang Center for EGFR-Mutant Lung Cancers at Dana-Farber, will serve as the inaugural incumbent of the David M. Livingston, MD, Chair at Dana-Farber.
“We are proud to support this endowed chair to honor David’s legacy, enabling his spirit of mentorship, scholarly research, and collaboration to continue,” said Mindy and Jon Gray of the Gray Foundation, who contributed a gift of $1 million to seed this chair in Livingston’s memory.
Added Kaelin: “We’ll never be able to replace David’s presence, but this endowed chair honors him by supporting the work of a leading cancer scientist in perpetuity and ensuring patients everywhere continue to benefit from his extraordinary legacy.”