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Angela Brodie, professor of pharmacology and experimental therapeutics of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, died Wednesday.
Angela Brodie, professor of pharmacology and experimental therapeutics of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, died Wednesday. (BALTIMORE SUN)

Angela Hartley Brodie, a scientist whose research advanced treatments for breast cancer and was credited with helping save the lives of thousands of women, died Wednesday of complications from Parkinson's disease at her home in Fulton in Howard County. She was 82.

The University of Maryland School of Medicine biochemist and pharmacologist did work that helped prolong the lives of breast cancer patients by inhibiting the disease's path in women whose tumors had failed to shrink after undergoing conventional treatments.

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"Dr. Angela Brodie's impact on the treatment of breast cancer has been unparalleled. It is because of her work that a disease that was once almost a certain death sentence can now, for many, be successfully treated and managed," Dr. E. Albert Reece, dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said in a statement.

"The drugs she developed cut the risk of breast cancer returning for some women by 40 percent or more," said Dr. Kevin Cullen, the director of the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center. "For certain women with a high risk of developing breast cancer, her drug can cut the risk by 60 per cent or more."

Her discovery, a drug called an aromatase inhibitor, was made up in batches at the University of Maryland in downtown Baltimore.

Her research was not initially adopted.

"We presented our data at the National Institutes of Health, and they brought up one objection after another," said her husband, Dr. Harry Brodie, a bio-organic chemist, with whom she often worked.

"Then we happened to go to a meeting in Europe and we ran into Charles Coombes. He said, 'Send me the material. I can do it.' He had 11 patients in London, and they responded."

Some 30 percent of the London patients saw their cancers go into remission. The finding directed scientists and drug companies to other chemicals and new strategies that help block the growth of breast cancer.

She told her colleagues that as a young woman, she attended a slide lecture about radical mastectomies for women with breast cancer devised by Dr. William S. Halsted more than 100 years ago.

"She was horrified. She thought it was a butcher shop and she said to herself, 'There has to be better way,'" said Dr. Margaret McCarthy, her department chair. "The better way was to understand the science behind the cancer. She used her science to starve the cancer cells of the estrogen that was fueling their growth."

A 1993 article in The Baltimore Sun said that her research centered on reproductive health issues, particularly for women, and began as an interest in the link between breast cancer and the hormone estrogen.

A statement issued by the University of Maryland School of Medicine, where she worked for decades, said: "Dr. Brodie's research revolutionized the treatment of hormone-dependent breast cancer worldwide. She pioneered the development of aromatase inhibitor, which is now considered among the most important contributions toward treating estrogen-driven breast cancer, the most common form of breast cancer in postmenopausal women."

Dr. Brodie was born Angela Hartley in the Oldham section of Manchester, England. Her father was Herbert Hartley, an organic chemist who studied polyurethanes.

"He was always talking to me about science, always interesting me in it," she said in a University of Maryland School of Medicine interview in 2005.

She studied for nine years at Ackworth, a Quaker boarding school in West Yorkshire, before earning a degree at the University of Sheffield.

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She then worked in a blood bank but went on to be a laboratory research assistant in department of hormone research at Manchester's Christie Cancer Hospital. There she developed her interest in estrogen-dependent breast cancer before she received a doctorate from the University of Manchester.

She later conducted research at the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology in Shrewsbury, Mass., in the 1960s and 1970s, and joined the faculty of the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1979. She worked in labs there until her retirement last year.

Her colleagues at the University of Maryland said Dr. Brodie continued her work with aromatase inhibitors and expanded her research into a new area, prostate cancer, and worked with a fellow scientist, Dr. Vincent Njar.

She had held a professorship in pharmacology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. She was also a researcher in the Hormone Responsive Cancers Program at the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center.

"Angela was the heart and soul of our department of pharmacology. She was a giant scientifically and made a fundamental discovery that ultimately saved the lives of millions of women," said Dr. Margaret McCarthy, her department chair. "She was a rare gem. She never sought fame. She only sought to improve the treatment of cancer."

"She was a strong, brilliant woman behind a delicate exterior," said Dr. Sara Sukumar, a Johns Hopkins School of Medicine professor. "She made seminal contributions, and thousands of women are living today because of her work."

Colleagues at the University of Maryland School of Medicine said that Dr. Brodie declined to seek academic honors and prizes. She nevertheless received the Charles F. Kettering Prize from the General Motors Cancer Research Awards in 2005. The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation also gave her its Brinker Award in 2000.

"Horseback riding was her first avocation" said her husband. "We live on a 1-acre place, and she also had a market garden with flowers and vegetables."

A funeral is planned for 10:30 a.m. June 17 at the Society of Friends in Olney.

In addition to her husband of 52 years, survivors include a son, Mark Brodie, a drama teacher in San Fernando, Calif.; and two grandchildren. Another son, Dr. John Hartley Brodie, a theoretical physicist, died in 2006.

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