Posted on: July 27, 2017
The American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) selected Haakon Ragde, MD, as its 2016 Honorary Member, the highest honor ASTRO bestows on distinguished cancer researchers, scientists and leaders in disciplines other than radiation oncology, radiobiology or radiation physics. Ragde was inducted during an awards ceremony at ASTRO’s 58th Annual Meeting, September 25-28, 2016, in Boston.
The first ASTRO Honorary Membership was awarded in 1989. Ragde is the 33rd physician to be chosen for the honor.
“Dr. Ragde is a luminary in the field of medicine,” said ASTRO Chair Bruce D. Minsky, MD, FASTRO. “His work has become the standard of care in a number of areas. As a board certified urologist, he has an impressive array of achievements, including introducing seed implantation for prostate cancer into the U.S., introducing transrectal ultrasonography and introducing the transrectal ultrasound-guided prostate biopsy method now used. He also took part in bone marrow transplant research that earned researcher E. Donnall Thomas, MD, the Nobel Peace Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1990. ASTRO thanks Dr. Ragde for his outstanding accomplishments.”
Ragde has received numerous honors and awards, including first prizes for scientific presentations at urological society meetings. He holds a professorship in urology at the University of Virginia, his alma mater. He has authored more than 100 scientific papers, written several textbook chapters and been invited to speak across the globe at scientific conferences and universities.
He was born in Norway and immigrated to the U.S. in 1948. He served in the U.S. Army as an artillery forward observer with the 2nd U.S. Infantry Division in the Korean War, receiving a Silver Star, two Bronze Stars with V and Oak Leaf Clusters and a Purple Heart.
Following his service, he entered the University of Virginia in 1952, where he graduated with a medical degree in 1957. He completed post-graduate training at McGill University in Montreal, Canada; Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York; Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland; and Medical College of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.
He accepted a staff position in 1965 in general surgery and urology at the University of Washington. There, Ragde and a colleague performed the first successful kidney transplants in the state of Washington. However, following these procedures, he was unable to raise money for continuing research. So when Thomas, the hematology professor who would ultimately win the Nobel Prize, approached Ragde with an offer to join Thomas’ bone marrow transplantation research team, Ragde agreed.
The team—Thomas, Ragde and two internists, Ranier Storb, MD, and Robert Epstein, MD—studied how bone marrow transplantation might cure leukemia and other cancers of the blood by replacing the diseased marrow with healthy marrow.
Ragde said the Nobel Peace Prize for the research did not surprise him. Not only did the five years of work change his life, but he also became good friends with Thomas.
According to Ragde, his greatest career accomplishment was template-directed brachytherapy for prostate cancer. He opened a private practice in urology in Seattle following his work with Thomas and became an expert in transrectal ultrasonography of the prostate. Ragde was trained in the technique by physicians at the University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark and Kyoto University, Kyoto, Japan. His mentor in Denmark called him to Copenhagen to see the accurate placement of ultrasound-directed radioactive seeds into a cancerous prostate. Ragde then took the technique back to his practice in Seattle.
He said that bringing new ideas into medicine is not always easy and, in the 1960’s, was especially difficult.
“Though the safety of the brachytherapy procedure had been verified by both the Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and the University of Copenhagen, the end-points were readily discernible, thus pre-empting the need for a larger population study,” he said.
“The Food and Drug Administration, however, disagreed, claiming we had no reliable data to justify that contention,” he said. “But, as more and more patients sought brachytherapy as a treatment for their prostate cancers, and physicians, in increasing numbers, followed suit by learning the implant technique, the FDA approved the template-directed prostate brachytherapy procedure.”
Ragde established the Pacific Northwest Cancer Foundation (which created Northwest Biotherapeutics, Inc.) and the Haakon Ragde Foundation for Advanced Cancer Studies. He retired from active practice in 2003 and now researches immunotherapy. He is conducting a study on immunotherapy on advanced prostate cancer patients at the University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway.
He said he was “greatly honored” to be chosen as ASTRO’s 2016 Honorary Member.