Phil Gold, PhD

2004 Edwin F. Ullman Award

Phil Gold, CC, OQ, MD, PhD, FRCP(C), FRSC, MACP, DSc (Hon., McM), was born in Montreal in 1936 and has remained a faithful citizen of that city but for periods of postdoctoral training and other periods spent studying away from home. After obtaining his primary and secondary schooling in Montreal, Dr. Gold went on to McGill University, where he obtained four degrees. Although at one time his career might have been considered somewhat “checkered” in the ongoing oscillation between clinical medicine and basic biomedical science, it has now become rather prototypic for the training and activities of the clinician-scientist.

Dr. Gold obtained his BSc in Honors Physiology in 1957 and then went on to receive MDCM and MSc degrees in physiology in 1961 for a thesis on erythropoietin based on summer research. His graduation from medical school was accompanied by the Wood Gold Medal for First Place High Aggregate Standing in the Final Year, the J. Francis Williams Scholarship in Medicine and Clinical Medicine, the Women’s Pavilion Prize in Obstetrics and Gynecology, and the Prize of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of the Province of Quebec in Pathology and Medicine.

After a year of rotating internship and another of residency in general internal medicine, Dr. Gold spent the next 2 years (1963–1965) in the laboratories of The McGill University Medical Clinic of The Montreal General Hospital (now The Montreal General Hospital Research Institute) obtaining a PhD degree, of which the thesis title was Carcinoembryonic Antigens of the Human Digestive System. Dr. Gold’s discovery of the carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA), along with the description of α-fetoprotein at about the same time, ushered in the modern era of human tumor marker research along with the rather broad ramifications that this work has had over the past 30 years.

To complete a summary of the CEA field at this point, the application of the recently developed technology of molecular biology and genetics has led to the definition of the complete gene structure for the CEA, and studies have demonstrated a family of CEA genes, which now form a subgroup of the immunoglobulin superfamily. Moreover, from both the structures of the genes and functional studies that have been done, it would appear that the molecules of the CEA family serve roles in cellular adhesion.

The immunoassay for circulating serum CEA has become the most frequently used marker for human cancer, in various forms and settings. It has roles in detecting human tumor growth, in monitoring of patients postoperatively (perhaps its most important application), in radioimmunolocalization of tumors, and in both immunohistochemistry and immunocytochemistry. Most recently, experimental attempts have been made to eradicate tumors through the use of monoclonal anti-CEA antibody as a homing device for cancer cell cytotoxic agents and high-dose radioisotopes, and to actively immunize patients against CEA by immunizing with the CEA gene incorporated in a vaccine virus.
During his training at the Public Health Research Institute of New York City in 1967–1968 (as a Centennial Fellow of the Medical Research Council of Canada), Dr. Gold acquired the concepts and technology for electromicroscopy, tissue culture, virology and cell biology. He then returned to The Montreal General Hospital, its Research Institute, and McGill University as an Assistant Professor of Medicine and a Medical Research Council Career Investigator. Here he continued the studies described above continued on CEA, along with related work on other tumor markers.

Clinically, the Division of Clinical Immunology and Allergy of The Montreal General Hospital served as a base, and Dr. Gold subsequently became Director of the Division in 1977. About a year later, while retaining the position just noted, Dr. Gold became the first Director of the McGill Cancer Centre, where he stayed for 4 years. This Centre has subsequently evolved into the Department of Oncology of McGill’s Faculty of Medicine—the first such University-based Department of Oncology in North America. During that period, Dr. Gold moved through the ranks of Associate Professorship to become a Full Professor of Medicine and Physiology in 1972.

In 1980, Dr. Gold returned to The Montreal General Hospital as Physician-in-Chief and served as the Chairman of the Department of Medicine at McGill University for the statutory 5-year period between 1985 and 1990. In 1995 he stepped down from the position of Physician-in-Chief to become Executive Director of the Clinical Research Centre of the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre. The other positions he currently holds include the Douglas G. Cameron Professor of Medicine, McGill University; and Professor, Departments of Physiology and Oncology, McGill University.

In recognition of the scientific contributions made by Dr. Gold, he has been the recipient of numerous international awards and honors and has been elected to a wide variety of scientific organizations. Recognition from his country, province, city, and university have come in the form of his having been made a Companion of the Order of Canada, an Officer of the L’Ordre Nationale du Québec, a member of the Academy of Great Montrealers, and the recipient of the Gold Medal Award of Merit of The Graduate Society of McGill University.
Dr. Gold has been married to the former Evelyn Katz since 1960. They have three children, Ian, Josie, and Joel; and five grandchildren, Zachary, Michael, Alexander, Benjamin, and Adam Richard.