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Fascinated with regeneration

A liver cancer expert, Nelson Fausto was known for his ability to make friends



Nelson Fausto, a pathologist at the Medical School of the University of Washington, often flew from Seattle to Washington D.C., where he attended editorial meetings of the American Journal of Pathology. Quite often, he used the services of the same taxi driver. After several trips, the driver told him that he wanted to be a scientist. Fausto was acquainted with Anthony Fauci, director of the United States’ National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and persuaded him to help the driver to start a career at this institution. After a while, the driver was hired by the institute, Ann De Lancey, the scientist’s widow, told Pesquisa FAPESP. “Nelson treated Nobel laureates and common people with the same interest and consideration,” she said.

Stories such as this were recalled on April 2, when the researcher passed away at the age of 75, as a result of a multiple myeloma, a type of bone-marrow cancer. Nelson Fausto was born in São Paulo. One of his brothers, Boris, was a historian and another, Ruy, was a philosopher, both from the University of São Paulo (USP). Nelson graduated in 1960 from the USP Medical School (FMUSP) and two years later trained at the department of pathology at the Medical School of the University of Wisconsin in the United States. He had intended to join the then newly-founded University of Brasilia after finishing his specialization course. However, the 1964 military coup caused him to stay in Wisconsin and to embark upon a successful career far away from here. “Had there been no coup, he would probably have returned to Brazil to teach and do research,” says Boris. The youngest of the brothers, he came to São Paulo every year to visit his family and to sit on boards and commissions.

After Wisconsin, Fausto moved to Brown University, in Providence, where he held leadership and management positions, until we was appointed head of the pathology department at the Medical School of the University of Washington, in Seattle. His field of expertise was cancer of the liver; this organ fascinated him for its regeneration capabilities.

“Nelson was one of the most brilliant students that ever worked in my Medical School lab in the late 1950s,” tells us Michel Rabinovitch, a former professor at FMUSP and currently a collaborating professor at the Federal University of São Paulo. “Along with Vinay Kumar and Abul Abbas, he revised the classic text of Robbins and Cotran, Pathological basis of diseases (2005), the bedside book of medical students worldwide, Brazil included.”

Nelson Fausto was the editor in chief of the American Journal of Pathology for 10 years. He published more than 160 original pieces of work, in addition to 30 review articles, with some 16 thousand citations. “Besides considerable scientific production, he had an enormous capacity to make friends,” says the biochemist Walter Colli, from USP’s Institute of Chemistry. For Rabinovitch, Fausto’s lack of vanity and conceit were some of his major characteristics. Married to the American psychiatrist Ann De Lancey, his second wife, Fausto had no children.