Coffey is a teacher, a storyteller, a scientist, a scholar, and
a Renaissance man who makes the term seem dismally inadequate. He
is a fine talker, but an even better listener. He loves his family,
is loyal to his friends, is funny, and he's interested in everything.
Nothing in the universe is too arcane for Don Coffey, because everything
connects, the very big and the incredibly small —it's all
part of the wonderful puzzle being worked on, all the time, in his
brain. Scientifically speaking, he’s a catalyst. He inspires. He
charges the air with the electric excitement of ideas. Spend five
minutes with Don Coffey, maybe in his office packed with some of
the gadgets that fascinate him, or maybe in the halls of Marburg,
and you'll likely think,"Wow, that's the smartest guy I've
ever met." You may swear your own IQ has risen by a few points,
just by osmosis. If you are told that some people have compared
Coffey to another famous American scientist, storyteller and scholar,
Benjamin Franklin, you may take a half-second to digest this, and
then you may think, "I wonder if Ben Franklin was half as bright."
Donald S. Coffey, Ph.D., who is The
Catherine Iola and J. Smith Michael Distinguished Professor of Urology,
served as Director of the Research Laboratories in the Department
of Urology for 30 years, from 1974 to 2004. On October 10, 2006,
the Brady Urological Institute dedicated the Donald S.Coffey Professorship
in Urology. Its first occupant will be, appropriately, the Coffey
trained and -inspired scientist Robert Getzenberg, whose work is
featured on the cover of this issue, and who succeeds Coffey as
the Brady's Director of Research.
five minutes with Don
Coffey, and you'll likely think,
"Wow, that's the smartest guy I’ve
ever met." You may swear your
own IQ has risen by a few points,
just by osmosis.
"It's very fitting that the
first recipient of the Coffey chair should be Rob Getzenberg,"
says Alan W. Partin, M.D., Ph.D., Director of Urology— and
a world-renowned, Coffey-inspired scientist himself. "Like
Don Coffey, he is an innovative scientist and teacher, whose exciting
work is giving us new ways to think about and tackle prostate cancer."
Look at Coffey's appointments at
Hopkins, and see how many departments claim him: He's a professor
of urology, oncology, pathology, pharmacology and molecular sciences.
He's also a member of the Principal Professional Staff at the Johns
Hopkins University'’s Applied Physics Laboratory. "It's safe
to say that the Brady would not be leading the world in understanding
the science of prostate cancer without Don Coffey," says Patrick
C. Walsh, M.D., University Distinguished Service Professor of Urology.
"We've worked together for 32 years," most of which time
Walsh was the Director of Urology,"and we agreed that the best
thing we could do was to get the brightest young people we could,
believe in them, teach them all that we could, and then give them
the chance to flourish."
Among Coffey's many contributions
to urologic research is his groundbreaking work on the "nuclear
matrix" — which he identified, isolated, and named —
of cells."The matrix provides the three-dimensional structure
of the nucleus,"Partin explains, "and organizes the higher
order structure of DNA. The nuclear matrix protein composition is
tissue-specific, and changes with the development of cancer."
These discoveries, Walsh adds, grew out of Coffey's "brilliant
ability to simplify. As a nonpathologist, he was able to simplify
the pathology of cancer down to one rule: The nucleus is irregular.
He then set out to find what makes a nucleus round, and in the process,
discovered the nuclear matrix." Coffey's discoveries, according
to Getzenberg, "have implications that we're still learning
about, and they've set us on whole new courses of scientific exploration."
But, Coffey's colleagues agree, even
this work isn't his most lasting legacy. "Don is an inspiring
teacher," says Walsh, "and the Pied Piper of prostate
cancer research. He has attracted more outstanding investigators
into the field than anyone who ever lived."
in the universe is too
arcane for Coffey, because everything
connects, the very big and the
incredibly small. It’s all part of the
wonderful puzzle being worked
on, all the time, in his brain.
One of those is William Isaacs, Ph.D.,
whose groundbreaking work on the genetics of prostate cancer established
conclusive proof that the disease runs in families. His latest research
is featured on Page 15 of this issue. "Don has an irresistible
way of inspiring students to discover," he says."He cuts
through all the details to reveal the key question, and does it
in such a way that you can’t help but want to be part of the answer."
Another world-class, Coffey-trained
investigator is William G. Nelson, M.D., Ph.D., Because of Coffey’s
“unique ability to communicate, often by using homespun analogies,"
Nelson believes, he can explain complex biomedical research to just
about anyone. "Watching Don testify in front of Congress on
behalf of cancer research, you could almost see the 'now I get it'
light bulbs turning on. For an engineer who undertook Ph.D. training
in biochemistry, Don has a great sense of cancer not only as disordered
biochemistry, but as a disease that threatens life and happiness.
I think that he's had as much influence on the thinking and training
of great physicians and surgeons as he's had on basic science researchers."
A few other highlights from Coffey's
great career: A graduate of the University of East Tennessee, he
received his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the Johns Hopkins University
School of Medicine in 1964. He is Past-President of the American
Association for Cancer Research, and also of the Society for Basic
Urologic Research. He served as a member of the National Prostatic
Cancer Program of the National Cancer Institute for 19 years, and
served as its national chairperson from 1984 to 1988. He has received
the Robert Edwards Award from The Tenovus Institute; both the Fuller
Award and Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Urological
Association; the highest research award given by the Society of
International Urology; and a 2001 American Cancer Society Distinguished
Service Award. He is an Honorary Member of Alpha Omega Alpha, the
recipient of two Merit Awards from the National Institutes of Health,
and the author of more than 250 research publications.