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Remembering Donald Pinkel (1926 – 2022)

May 31, 2022

June 2022

Donald Pinkel, MD

Donald Pinkel, MD

Donald Pinkel, MD, a medical pioneer in oncology, passed away on March 9 at his home in San Luis Obispo, California, after a long illness.

His lifelong pursuit of advancing medical care for all persons, regardless of circumstances, led him to undertake a variety of challenges. One of the most notable was confronting the challenge of childhood leukemia. While at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where he worked for 12 years and was the founding medical director, Dr. Pinkel and his team discovered a cure for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). The treatment, called total therapy, is still being used at St. Jude Children’s Hospital and, following further refinement, now confers a 94% survival rate for children with ALL.

Along with his scientific achievements, Dr. Pinkel strove to tackle important social issues. He advocated for access to treatment regardless of race or financial means; he advanced access to health care for all children by addressing what today are known as the social determinants of health (essential resources such as safe housing and nutrition); and he developed a supplemental nutrition program to address hunger in children with cancer, a program that served as the basis of the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.

In his later years, Dr. Pinkel taught courses in medical virology, medical mycology, and emerging infections at California Polytechnic State University before his retirement at 89.

Sources: The Tribune, March 15, 2022; Academic, 2022.

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