Peter Nowell, Abramson Cancer Center
Peter C. Nowell, M’52, RES’56, HON’10, a groundbreaking researcher at the University of Pennsylvania best known for co-discovering the Philadelphia chromosome, died on December 26 of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. He was 88.
Dr. Nowell was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Rose Tree, Delaware County. He graduated from Swarthmore High School in 1945 and earned a fast-tracked bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Wesleyan University. He earned a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 1952, completed a rotating internship at Philadelphia General Hospital and trained in pathology at Presbyterian Hospital.
He worked for two years at the US Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory in San Francisco before returning to Penn Medicine as an instructor and later becoming professor in the department of pathology. He was chairman of the department from 1967-1973.
In 1960, Dr. Nowell and late colleague David Hungerford discovered the Philadelphia chromosome, the first direct link between a chromosomal abnormality and cancer. He also contributed to research in the field of cytogenetics and the evolution of cancer.
He became the first director of the University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center, now known as the Abramson Cancer Center, in 1973.
Dr. Nowell received the Lindback Distinguished Teaching Award in 1967, the Distinguished Graduate Award from the School of Medicine in 1992 and the Alumni Award of Merit in 2003. He was awarded the Albert Lasker Clinical Medial Research Award, known as the “American Nobel,” in 1998 (Almanac September 22, 1998).
Dr. Nowell retired and became professor emeritus of pathology and laboratory medicine in 2007 (Almanac July 17, 2007).
He received an honorary degree from Penn in 2010. In the same year, he received the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Science by the Franklin Institute (Almanac May 11, 2010).
In 2015, Penn established the Peter C. Nowell, MD, Professorship (Almanac October 13, 2015).
Dr. Nowell authored more than 400 articles throughout his career and was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Helen Walker Worst Nowell, and their daughter, Sharon.
He is survived by his sons, Michael and Timothy; daughters, Karen King and Kristin; a brother; and seven grandchildren.
Contributions may be made to the School in Rose Valley, 20 School Lane, Rose Valley, PA, 19063; or to Elwyn, 111 Elwyn Road, Media, PA, 19063.