A world-renowned expert in bone marrow transplantation, Santos founded the Oncology Center's bone marrow transplant program and served as its director from 1968 until his retirement in 1994. Among his extensive research and clinical accomplishments was development of the regimen to prepare patients for the procedure by using the anticancer drugs busulfan and cytoxan, which quickly became the worldwide standard. His animal studies in transplantation biology continue to serve as guides in the development of new therapeutic approaches.
"As one of the first Oncology Center faculty members, George Santos played a critical role in establishing the field of oncology as a specialty. I was privileged to have worked with him and learned from him as an oncology fellow and later as a colleague," says Martin Abeloff, director of the Oncology Center. "Many of the great strides we have made today in bone marrow transplantation as therapy for cancer and other diseases can be directly traced to the early research of Dr. Santos."
In 1960, when he was a fellow at Hopkins, Santos conducted the institution's first marrow transplantation studies in animals. He performed his first human bone marrow transplant in 1968 in the Hopkins Oncology Unit at Baltimore City Hospital, now known as Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. Throughout his long career at Hopkins, he was instrumental in developing what is considered today the standard of care in marrow transplantation.
In addition to the preparative regimen, which provided an alternative to total body radiation, he was among the first to test the drug cyclosporine for the treatment of life-threatening transplantation complication known as graft-versus-host disease. Other research included the use of the drug 4-HC to purge patients' diseased marrow of cancer cells, allowing them to self-donate; treatments to prevent and manage opportunistic infections in immuno-compromised bone marrow transplant patients; and techniques in T-cell depletion that reduced both complications and relapses.
Recognizing the urgency of effective cancer treatments, Santos was among the first "translational" scientists to focus on moving laboratory discoveries rapidly from the bench to the bedside. His dedication to his patients was always evident. His office contained a wall of photographs of the patients he had treated, and one of his fondest memories was of attending the wedding of a patient he had cared for 15 years earlier. So important to Santos were his patients that when he retired, Hopkins honored him with a reunion of more than 200 transplant patients he and his staff had treated over his career.
"A whole generation of Hopkins-trained translational scientists looked to George as their intellectual and spiritual mentor," says Richard Jones, professor of oncology and current director of the Hopkins bone marrow transplant program. "The world of biomedical science has recently embraced the concept of translational research, but George was showing the Hopkins community how to do this long before it was in vogue."
The Hopkins Oncology Center's inpatient bone marrow transplantation unit was named in Santos' honor at the opening of the new clinical facilities last year.
Among the other honors he garnered for his significant contributions to oncology were the Bristol Myers Squibb Award for Distinguished Achievement in Cancer Research and the American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation Lifetime Achievement Award.
Santos received a bachelor's degree in quantitative biology and a master's degree in physical biology from MIT. He received his medical degree and completed a residency and fellowship at Johns Hopkins. He developed an interest in bone marrow transplantation while serving in the Naval Reserves at the U.S. Naval Radiologic Defense Laboratory in San Francisco from 1956 to 1958.
Following his retirement in 1994, Santos moved to Hilton Head, S.C. He is survived by his wife, Carole, and four children by his first wife, Joanne. The family requests that any donations made in his honor be sent to the Johns Hopkins Oncology Center's Bone Marrow Transplant Patient and Family Fund.