December 10, 2008
3 min read

Joseph R. Bertino, MD: history buff and gourmand

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Joseph R. Bertino, MD, is university professor of medicine and pharmacology at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey–Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and associate medical editor for HemOnc Today. He is chief scientific officer of the Cancer Institute of New Jersey and in 2007 he was named interim director of the Stem Cell Institute of New Jersey.

Joseph R. Bertino, MD

University Professor of Medicine and Pharmacology at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey–Robert Wood Johnson Medical School

HemOnc Today Associate Medical Editor

Bertino served as president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology from 1976 to 1977 and president of the American Association for Cancer Research from 1995 to 1996. In 2008, he received ASCO’s Distinguished Service Award for Scientific Achievement and the Joseph H. Burchenal Clinical Research Award from AACR. At Yale School of Medicine, Bertino was the first Director of the Cancer Center from 1973 to 1975. In 1987, Bertino moved to Memorial-Sloan Kettering and served as chair of the Molecular Pharmacology and Therapeutics Program.

In 1983, he became the founding editor-in-chief of The Journal of Clinical Oncology and served in that capacity for five years.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not practicing medicine?

I like playing golf, reading books and enjoying life.

If you hadn’t gone into medicine, what would you have done?

I probably would have gone into biochemistry and gotten a PhD.

What would you consider your biggest success in your field?

I think understanding the mechanism of action of methotrexate and mechanism of resistance to the drug.

What is the last book you read/art collection you saw/CD you bought? Why and what did you think of it?

The book I’m reading is on Abraham Lincoln (Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America, by Garry Wills). I just started it, but it looks like an interesting book. I really enjoy reading books on American history.

Who do you most admire and what would you ask that person if you had five minutes with him?

Harry Truman is one of the people I admire most. I might ask him how he came to the decision to replace Gen. MacArthur in Korea. That was a big decision. MacArthur was a big hero — and it took guts to do it.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

The best advice I ever received was from one of my mentors, Dr. Clem Finch at the University of Washington in Seattle where I was a fellow in hematology. That was to take an assistant position offered to me at Yale University Medical School.

Who do you consider a mentor?

I’ve been fortunate to have three people I consider my mentors. My first mentor was Clem Finch who’s now retired and lives in San Diego. He was professor and head of hematology at the University of Washington in Seattle. During my fellowship, I worked with Dr. Frank Huennekens, who was a professor of biochemistry, also now retired. That’s where I began my research, and they were both terrific mentors.

I started my professional career at Yale in the department of pharmacology. Dr. Arnold Welch, the chairman, also was a great leader and mentor. Arnold died a few years ago, but he was a fantastic chairman and mentor to all of the young people.

What kind of diet/exercise regime do you follow?

I was afraid you were going to ask me a question about diet. I do play tennis once a week. I usually try to play golf once during the weekend. I like to walk a lot, too. I think about dieting; I’m still thinking about dieting. I probably would go on the Atkins diet if I ever did come that point. It’s good for a couple weeks. I did try it last year. I lost 10 lb, but as soon as you’re off it, you gain it right back.

What do you think will have the biggest influence on hematology/oncology in the next 10 years?

As we understand the mechanisms for malignancy at the molecular level and the difference between normal stem cells and malignant stem cells, this may give us some new avenues for drug development for treating patients.

What is your favorite travel destination?

My two favorite places are Hawaii and Italy.

What is your favorite restaurant?

There’s a little restaurant in Branford, Conn., where my home is, called La Petite Café, a French restaurant. It’s a five-star restaurant. It’s kind of a gem in Connecticut.