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17.09.2015 | Internationally Acclaimed Cancer Researcher, Gianni Bonadonna, MD, Dies at 81

Gianni Bonadonna, MD, was considered the “Father of Italian Oncology,” but his scientific contributions to the field and his generous collegial spirit extended far beyond the shores of his native land. Dr. Bonadonna was at the forefront in the battle to convince the surgical establishment that adjuvant therapy could significantly improve clinical outcomes. He was a scientist’s scientist. He was also a patient’s doctor, having this message for the younger generation of oncologists: “Don’t get too caught up in the deluge of data and statistics. It is time to reconnect with the patient.” Dr. Bonadonna died on September 7, 2015. He was 81. 


Gianni Bonadonna, M.D. 

Dr. Gianni Bonadonna, born in Milan in 1934, achieved his medical degree at the University of Milan in 1959. During his postdoctoral training, he attended as Research Fellow the Divisions of Clinical Chemotherapy (1961-63) and of Clinical Investigation (1963-64) of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. He then joined the Istituto Nazionale Tumori of Milan where he became Director of the Division of Medical Oncology in 1976. In 1991 he was appointed Head of the Department of Cancer Medicine in the same institution and Associate Professor at the School of Hematology of the University in Milano. Since 2008, Emeritus Director at the same Institution.

In 1999 he founded the Michelangelo Foundation, a non-profit organization for Cancer Research and Treatment whose main aims are to conduct clinical and translational studies internationally and to improve collaboration in many medical disciplines.

Dr. Bonadonna's main research activity included the initial studies on the clinical efficacy of Adriamycin (doxorubicin), epirubicin and bleomycin, a number of seminal trials on adjuvant and primary chemotherapy for high-risk breast cancer as well as on combined modality for the treatment of Hodgkin's disease.

In 1972 he designed new combination chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s disease known as ABVD (Adriamycin, bleomycin, vinblastine and dacarbazine) that proved to be superior to the classical MOPP chemotherapy and effective in MOPP-resistant patients. ABVD is nowadays (40 years later) still considered the golden standard for conventional chemotherapy in Hodgkin’s disease. In recognition of his researches in Hodgkin ’s disease, the Committee of the International Symposium on Hodgkin’s disease in Cologne (Germany) officially instituted the ‘Gianni Bonadonna Hodgkin’s Disease Award and Lecture’.

In 1973 he designed and conducted the first randomized study to test the activity of the CMF (cyclophosphamide, methotrexate and fluorouracil) combination chemotherapy as an adjuvant treatment in node-positive operable breast cancer. Adjuvant CMF proved to be effective in significantly reducing the risk of disease recurrence and death over a prolonged period of time (30 years). He then designed and conducted a number of seminal trials on both adjuvant and primary chemotherapy for high risk breast cancer. The administration of primary chemotherapy achieved prompt tumor shrinkage and was able to induce pathological complete remission in a fraction of patients, favorably influencing their prognosis. As a tribute to his contributions in the field of cancer research, the American Society of Clinical Oncology instituted in 2007 the ‘Gianni Bonadonna Breast Cancer Award and Lecture’ that will be presented annually to a researcher of merit in the field of breast cancer.

Visiting Professor in several Universities all over the world, he received numerous prestigious awards among which the Rosenthal (1982), Karnofsky (1989), Medal of Honor from the American Cancer Society (1991), Josef Steiner (1992), San Salvatore (1993), Ambrogino d'oro- Prize of the Municipality of Milano (1993), Federation of European Cancer Society Clinical Research Award (1995), in  1999 the "Distinguished Service Award for Scientific Achievement" dell'American Society of Clinical Oncology, the ‘Saul Rosenberg’  for trials on malignant lymphoma in 2001, the ‘1st  St. Gallen Golden Cancer Award’ and the ‘II Premio Internacional de Oncología Duque de Badajoz della  Fundacion para la Investigación y Formación en Oncología’  in 2003. Since 1997 he is Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, London, England. In 2004 he received the ‘Laurea Honoris Causa’ in Medicin, University of Turin, Italy.

Dr. Gianni Bonadonna is author or co-authors of more than 550 scientific publications which appeared in the international medical literature, and co-editor of an Italian Textbook on Medical Oncology whose 8th edition appeared in June 2007. He is also author of four books on medicine for lay people and of one book on the Sepoy Revolution in India.

He is also author of some books for lay people and in the one published in 2005 titled “Coraggio ricominciamo (Let’s take heart again)” he narrated his experience in family, social and working life after a severe cerebral hemorrhage and encourage all patients and relatives to never give up. He was chairman of multiple institutional and national committees aimed at improving the patient-doctor relationship. The last book published in 20014 is titled ‘Appuntamento col Padreterno’ (Appointment with the God Almighty) where he ended ‘like Pope Ratzinger, I want to live as ’simple pilgrim in the last stage of my pilgrimage’.

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