Eddie Reed, MD

Doctor | Class of 2015

Eddie Reed was a cancer researcher, medical oncologist, and leader in public policy addressing disparities in healthcare in the United States.

Eddie Reed was born on December 17, 1953, the son of Floyd and Gennora Reed, who reared a family of eighteen children on a farm near Hughes, Arkansas. Reed and his siblings received their early education in Hughes’s public schools. They each achieved a college education and had distinguished careers as lawyers, doctors, teachers, and public servants. Reed attended Philander Smith College, a historically black institution in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he achieved academic distinction. In the summer following his sophomore year, he was chosen to work in medical research at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Bethesda, Maryland. The laboratory chief, Bruce Chabner, recognized Reed’s outstanding potential and became his mentor and lifelong friend.

At the NCI, Reed studied the metabolic disposition of allopurinol, an important medication for treating gout and complications of leukemia. His work on allopurinol during college led to his pursuit of a career in cancer drug development in the nation’s foremost research institutions. After graduation from Philander Smith in 1975, he completed his medical degree from Yale Medical School in 1979 and trained in internal medicine at Stanford University Hospitals from 1979 to 1981. Dr. Reed entered the United States Public Health Service, of which the NCI is a part, as a fellow in medical oncology in 1981. He became a career officer and scientist at the NCI, where he remained for seventeen years.

At the NCI, his research focused on the new anticancer drug cisplatin and its interaction with DNA. In the early 1970s, cisplatin became the most important new cancer drug, a key component for treating testicular cancer, lung cancer, ovarian cancer, and tumors of the head and neck. However, its toxic side effects to normal tissues were often severe and unpredictable. Reed was the first to show that inherent individual capacity to repair DNA lesions caused by cisplatin determined the degree of toxicity for both normal and human tissues. He implicated an increased capacity to repair DNA as the major factor contributing to resistance to cisplatin and its sister drug, carboplatin. DNA repair has since become a major focus for cancer drug development efforts. All the while, Reed remained a committed cancer physician and a leader nationally and internationally in the study of treatments for ovarian cancer, for which cisplatin and other platinum-based drugs remain crucial elements.

In 1995, he was promoted to chief of the Clinical Pharmacology Branch at the NCI, the first African-American scientist to hold a branch chief position at NCI. He retired from the Public Health Service after a twenty-year career in 1998 to become director of the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center at the University of West Virginia (1998– 2003). Thereafter, he was chosen to be director of the Division of Cancer Cause and Prevention of the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia (2003–2008), where he led national programs to advance cancer screening and diagnosis. He left Atlanta in 2008 to become clinical director of the Mitchell Cancer Center at the University of South Alabama (2008) in Mobile and, in 2012, was chosen to become the first clinical director of the newly formed National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, a position he held until his death in 2014.

Throughout his career, despite his growing administrative and research responsibilities, he always maintained an active laboratory and clinical agenda, with a special interest in the treatment of ovarian cancer. He was an advocate for the underserved in his various positions in West Virginia, Alabama, and nationally, and he gave his outspoken support for the advancement of minority scientists in the field of cancer research.

His scientific contributions include more than 300 scientific papers, many book chapters, and numerous lectures in the United States and abroad. He served as an advisor to the National Center for Toxicological Research in Arkansas and academic cancer centers. He was also a member of the senior advisory council of the American Association for Cancer Research. Throughout his life, he never forgot Arkansas and often reminded colleagues at the NCI, Yale, Stanford, and West Virginia of his love for the Razorbacks, the family farm, and the simpler days in Arkansas.

Reed’s remarkable life came to a sudden close when he developed cancer at the age of sixty, an ironic ending to a unique career. He died on May 28, 2014, and is buried at Paradise Gardens Cemetery in Edmonson, Arkansas. His career was recognized during a celebration of his life at the American Association for Cancer Research in 2015. In his honor, colleagues and friends established the Dr. Eddie Reed Exchange Fellowship at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center (MGHCC). This fellowship supports training in cancer control and treatment at the MGHCC for cancer professionals from Sub-Saharan Africa.

Dr. Reed was survived by his wife and research collaborator, Meenakshi Reed. His only son, Edward Reed, died at the age of twenty-three in an automobile accident.

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