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Donald L. Morton

In Memoriam: Donald L. Morton

(09/12/1934 - 01/10/2014)Member since 1963

Donald L. Morton, MD, 50-year member of the AACR, died Jan. 1, 2014, at the age of 79. Morton was chief of the melanoma program and co-director of the surgical oncology fellowship program at the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, California. He first joined the AACR in 1963.

Morton was an academic surgeon and pioneer in melanoma treatment. He was noted for developing the sentinel lymph node procedure now practiced worldwide for many cancers and changed the American Joint Committee on Cancer and classification of malignant tumors staging systems. Additionally, he was a pioneer of cancer vaccine immunotherapy research for melanoma.

Born Sept. 9, 1934, Morton grew up in West Virginia and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley. He received his medical degree from the University of California, San Francisco, and began working at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in 1960. During his tenure at the University of California, Los Angeles, Morton treated John Wayne, whose children went on to support the John Wayne Cancer Institute in 1981, of which Morton was the founding member along with Wayne’s son, Michael.

An advocate of training young clinicians in academic clinical translational research, Morton was also known for promoting academic surgical oncology and pioneering the official board certification program of academic and clinical surgical oncology training of surgery fellows. Surgical oncology was not yet recognized as a specialty within general surgery in 1971, when Morton became professor and chief of the division of surgical oncology at UCLA, and his division provided an example for other medical schools.

Morton published more than 600 manuscripts throughout his career and, along with Emil Frei, edited the Cancer Medicine Textbook. He had one of the longest continuous funding levels, as well as one of the highest levels of funding from the NCI. He served as president of the Society of Surgical Oncology, the World Federation of Surgical Oncology Societies, and the International Sentinel Node Society, and mentored more than 100 postdoctoral fellows in translational research associated with surgical treatment of cancer throughout his career.

The American College of Surgeons (ACS) recognized Morton’s contribution to the field of surgery related to his technique of sentinel lymph node biopsy with the Jacobson Innovation Award of the ACS in 2008.