Norm Breslow, PhDNorman Breslow, PhD

Dr. Breslow died December 9, 2015 after a long illness - more info

Norman Breslow was part of the original planning committee of the National Wilms Tumor Study (NWTS) in 1968.  In fact, he is the longest continuously serving Committee member, maintaining his NWTS tie for 40 years through his independently funded NWTS Late Effects Study.

Those of us who remember the early days look back on the steady guidance and wise counsel Dr. Breslow provided from day one.  It was he who was accorded sole veto power over study design or planning that did not meet his rigorous standards.  The clinicians’ ideas of what were scientifically and clinically important questions to address had to meet Dr. Breslow’s criteria of valid study design, feasibility and probability of significant outcome.   Withal, he was flexible and showed great imagination in adapting new statistical methods and techniques to accomplish clinical goals. 

All analyses are dependent on accurate and up-to-date data files.  His very successful organization and staffing of the NWTS Data and Statistical Center was critically important in this regard.  He immediately implemented ---- this was 40 years ago ---- a computerized data base system developed by a colleague that permitted detailed information to be retrieved on every patient.  The efficiency and accuracy of those data files are manifest in the more than 250 NWTS articles, book chapters, commentaries and editorials that have been published.   He is a co-author of nearly all NWTS papers reporting new findings.  Not only did they pass under his alert eyes before being submitted for publication but also he has always been intimately involved from the beginning in the formatting and analyses of NWTS reports. There is no doubt that the strength he and the DSC represented were critical factors in securing the continuous funding enjoyed by the NWTS over the years of its existence.

One of the ancillary benefits of his association with the NWTS is the fact they both grew up together, as it were.  Dr. Breslow, in his academic role at the university, has been able to use those data files for teaching purposes.  He has also presented for class room discussion and class work some of the design and interpretation problems encountered by the NWTS during its several decades of life.

Of course, Dr. Breslow’s interests and activities range well beyond the confines of the NWTS.  He has pioneered in the development of biostatistical and epidemiological methods and techniques as well as being co-author of two influential textbooks.  These and his many other contributions to science have led to his  international recognition as a leader in Biostatistics.
 His career began its upward climb 40 years ago as a Fellow in the Department of Preventive Medicine at the University of Washington.  It culminated when he was made a professor there in 1976 and the Chairman of the Department of Biostatistics from 1983-1993.  Before that, he had served as statistician to the International Agency for Research on Cancer a part of the World Health Organization in Lyon, France on two occasions.  He and his wife, Gayle, very much enjoyed the years they lived in France. 

Many national and international honors have accumulated during the intervening years.  The recipient of an Honorary Doctorate from the V. Segalen University in Bordeaux, France, he is a member of the Institute of Medicine of the American National Academy of Sciences, an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society of the United Kingdom and President of the International Biometric Society in 2002-2003.

Dr. Breslow is tall and trim.  He is an outdoors person, who enjoys Nature in all her manifestations.  Perhaps he likes skiing and trekking across mountainous country most of all. The Cascade Mountain Range near Seattle has been the site of many joyous camping trips with his family, but he has done farther afield as well.  For example, he has explored the the Himalayas in both Tibet and Nepal.   

A major celebration of his notable career took place in Seattle in 2006.  A symposium was convened in his honor and entitled, “Conference on Statistical Methods in Epidemiology and Observational Studies.”  From all over the world, many of his former students as well as other luminaries in the field attended the event, when the “Norman Breslow Endowed Lectureship” series was inaugurated.

His role in the success of the NWTS was reviewed at that time.  The two-year survival rate for children with Wilms tumor, in percents, has climbed from the low 80s when the first child was enrolled in the NWTS in 1969, to the high 90s to-day.  Not only that, but treatment intensity and duration have been reduced.  Thus, more children will survive with fewer long term disabilities --- lucky them and lucky us for having had Dr. Breslow with us during these productive decades.

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