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Murray J. Shear Papers 1908-1983
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Biography

Biographical Note

Dr. Murray J. Shear spent the bulk of his career researching substances and methods which might prove effective in the eradication of cancer. He was a member of the National Cancer Institute's inaugural staff and he actively participated in international cancer organizations.

Born on November 7, 1899 in Brooklyn, NY, Murray Jacob Shear developed an early interest in philosophy. While attending the City College of New York for his Bachelor's degree, he became interested in physical chemistry and research. He saw a philosophic basis for scientific research in the sense that research provided information upon which a philosophy could be constructed. Indeed, he felt that any philosophy was possible only upon an examination of information and knowledge.

From that point Shear followed the path of science, earning his Masters and Doctoral degrees in chemistry at Columbia University. Upon graduation, he turned down lucrative positions with industrial companies to follow his own interests. His guiding purpose for being a research chemist was his own personal curiosity. He took a position at Jewish Hospital in Brooklyn where he concentrated on bone formation in rickets and the deposition of bone salts in children. He left when pressure to assume management roles threatened his devotion to research.

His work with cancer began when he joined the U.S. Public Health Service's cancer research division, located at Harvard, in 1931. This group of scientists formed the nucleus of what would become the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in 1939. He began investigating calcium's effect on cancer tumors and progressed to studying the ameliorative effects of bacterial toxins on cancerous tumors. During the 1940s and 1950s his experiments with a purified filtrate of bacillus prodigiosus, or Serratia marcescens (polysaccharide) excited much scientific interest.

His chemical approach to the study of cancer eradication marked him as an early leader in the field of chemotherapy. Shear remained with NCI until his retirement in 1969 and served as the laboratory chief of Clinical Pharmacology from 1951 to 1964. During his career he also served as president of the American Association of Cancer Research, secretary general of the International Union Against Cancer (IUAC), and chairman of the IUAC's Chemotherapy Committee.

Dr. Shear died in Bethesda on September 17, 1983.