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In Memoriam: Paul Talalay, MD

Sun, March 10, 2019 8:32 AM | Karen Gottlieb (Administrator)

Paul Talalay, MD

Dr. Paul Talalay, a noted molecular pharmacologist who headed a Johns Hopkins School of Medicine research team that isolated a chemical found in broccoli that helped boost its cancer-fighting abilities, died Sunday of congestive heart failure at his Roland Park Place home. He was 95.

Dr. Talalay, who was born in Berlin, Germany, to Soviet Jewish parents, was the son of Joseph Talalay, an engineer and inventor, and his wife, Sophie Brosterman Talalay, a homemaker. Shortly after the rise of Adolf Hitler, Dr. Talalay and his family fled Germany in 1933 using purchased Haitian passports, family members said, moved to Belgium, France and then England, and settled near London.

He was a graduate of The Bedford School in Bedford, England, where while a student he learned to speak English. In 1940, he immigrated to New York with his family and later settled with them in New Haven, Conn. He was a 1944 graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he earned a degree in molecular biophysics. He began medical school at the University of Chicago, where he conducted research in the laboratory of Nobel Prize winner Dr. Charles B. Huggins, a prostate cancer researcher, which sparked his lifelong interest in cancer.

Dr. Talalay left Chicago after two years and entered Yale University Medical School, from which he graduated in 1948, and for the next two years, was a house officer at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He returned to the University of Chicago in 1950, “where his early work on the mechanism of cancer earned him a lifetime research grant from the American Cancer Society, at the time, the largest research grant the society had ever awarded to an individual,” his son, Antony “Tony” Talalay, of Lutherville, wrote in a biographical profile of his father. Three years later, he entered Cambridge University for postgraduate work, where while working in the laboratory, he met his future wife, the former Dr. Pamela Samuels, a biochemist, “and they bonded over their interest in protective enzymes,” his son wrote. They married in 1953.

Dr. Talalay came to Baltimore from the University of Chicago in 1963, when he was appointed professor of pharmacology and chairman of the department of pharmacology and experimental therapeutics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, which later became the laboratory for molecular pharmacology at Hopkins.

It was in 1992 that Dr. Talalay and the team of his researchers that he headed isolated a chemical, sulforphane, that is found in broccoli and similar Brassica family of vegetables, which in addition to broccoli include cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, turnips, collard greens, mustard greens, cabbage and kohlrabi, that can fight cancer.

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