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Barney Rosenberg, MSU scientist who discovered two life-saving cancer drugs used today.


Barney Rosenberg Discovered Life-Saving Cancer Treatment

You’re probably still high on yesterday’s Michigan State win against Ohio State, and elated that we’re going to the Rose Bowl.  However, MSU has provided more than a winning football team–we’re also known for life-saving research.  For example, if you’re a cancer survivor, you might want to thank Barney Rosenberg, an MSU scientist who discovered two of today’s leading cancer-fighting drugs in the 1970s.  Those drugs, known as cisplatin and carboplatin, are rarely used together, but are key ingredients in many of the combinations of drugs, radiation and surgery that make cancer survivable.

Rosenberg Not One Engaged to Fight in “Nixon’s War on Cancer”

Rosenberg came to MSU in 1961 from Brooklyn.  That time period swept in a number of scientists dedicated to fighting cancer, as part of Nixon’s “War Against Cancer”.  However, Rosenberg wasn’t dedicated to fighting cancer, in fact he wasn’t a physician or a biologist.  Instead, he was a physicist and also had a wide range of knowledge in other areas.  What drew him to MSU was John Hannah, recalls his widow, Ritta Rosenberg.  Hannah told Rosenberg that there were essentially no restrictions on his research, and that he could do “whatever he wanted”.  That promise persuaded Rosenberg away from other prestigious universities offering him positions, including the University of Berkeley.

Rosenberg’s Research Provided Extended Monetary Benefits to MSU

Although Rosenberg passed away in 2009, his drugs continue to save lives.  Cisplatin has been used in combination therapies to fight cancers ranging from testicular to gastric cancers, and nearly every type of cancer in between.  Rosenberg’s research has also provided MSU with hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties from the sale of cisplatin and carboplatin.  His legacy at MSU clearly extends far beyond his lifetime.

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