Dr Jonathan L. Hartwell

Jonathan L. Hartwell 1906-1991

We are saddened by the death of Jonathan A. Hartwell on March 22, 1991. He was personally responsible for the initiation and early development of the research programs for natural products at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and gave impetus to the creation of a systematic search for plants and marine animals with anticancer activity, an ongoing project for over 30 years.

His influence in organizing the natural products research programs at the NCI led to the initial and continuing funding of major research groups around the United States, including those of pioneers such as Jack Cole, Norman Farnsworth, S. Morris Kupchan, G. Robert Pettit, and Monroe Wall. The discovery and development of a wide variety of structurally and mechanistically diverse compounds by these investigators have provided invaluable tools for many researchers in biochemistry, molecular pharmacology, and medicinal chemistry.

The impact of the NCI program in demonstrating that plants and animals were, indeed, useful sources of exciting structural leads, led to screening programs in other pharmacological areas. There would certainly be much less support for plant and marine biomedical research today if not for Dr. Hartwell's trailblazing efforts. His many contributions to pharmacognosy led to his being chosen as an Honorary Member of the American Society of Pharmacognosy (ASP) in 1973.

Dr. Hartwell was a native of Boston and studied at Harvard University where he received his bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in 1927, 1929, and 1935, respectively. After completing his doctoral work, and holding industrial positions at duPont and Interchemical Corporation, he was a research fellow in Preventive Medicine & Hygiene at Harvard in 1938, a position which led to his interest in cancer and carcinogenesis.

He joined NCI in 1939 shortly after its formation and served for 36 years until his retirement in 1975. His positions included: Head of the Organic Chemistry Section, Laboratory of Chemistry and Pharmacology; Assistant Chief of the Cancer Chemotherapy National Service Center (CCNSC); Head, Natural Products Section, Drug Research and Development Branch; and Chief of the Research Communications Branch. In addition to the ASP, Dr. Hartwell was a member of the American Chemical Society, the Society for Economic Botany, and the Phytochemical Society of North America.

Among his works was the first major compilation of carcinogenic substances. He did extensive laboratory work at the NCI in the area of lignans, particularly those derived from Podophyllum peltatum, [Mayapple] and clarified the structures and bioactivities of the peltatins and podophyllotoxins. These studies were the basis for the subsequent discovery of etoposide, now a commonly used anticancer drug. His interest in plants as a source of anticancer agents led him to compile a thorough work on traditional and folkloric uses of plants for treatment of cancer which covered references to literature from ancient Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman eras through the period of European discovery in the Americas and Africa to the 1900s. This was originally published in 11 installments in Lloydia from 1967-1971 and has since been reprinted in a single volume, Plants Used Against Cancer: A Survey. This monumental work incorporates many references to rare original materials.

The word most often used to describe Jonathan Hartwell is "gentleman." He was a gentleman in every sense of the word, and had a reputation for politeness and consideration for others. He was always willing to take his own time to teach or help whoever asked him. No task was ever too long or too tedious that he couldn't conquer it by careful organization, patience, persistence, and a dry sense of humor. He never had an enemy, but only many friends, and he will be greatly missed by those who knew him. -- M. Suffness, G. R. Pettit, N. R. Farnsworth, M. E. Wall, and J. Douros. (American Society of Pharmacognosy Newsletter, Spring 1991)

American Botanical Council.


By M. Suffness; G.R. Pettit; N.R. Farnsworth; M.E. Wall and J. Douros

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