Dr. Gleason, founder of prostate cancer grading system, dies

January 29, 2009

Donald F. Gleason, MD, PhD, 88, died of a heart attack Dec. 28 in Edina, MN. Dr. Gleason, who retired from the University of Minnesota Medical School in 1986, was a central figure in the development of the Gleason grading system for prostate cancer tumors.

Donald F. Gleason, MD, PhD, 88, died of a heart attack Dec. 28 in Edina, MN. Dr. Gleason, who retired from the University of Minnesota Medical School in 1986, was a central figure in the development of the Gleason grading system for prostate cancer tumors.

“His work is the gold standard for prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment selection,” said Akhouri Sinha, PhD, a colleague of Dr. Gleason’s and professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School. “His original work was published in 1966, and it remains unchanged, in spite of numerous attempts to change it.”

Dr. Gleason was a graduate of the University of Minnesota and the university’s Medical School. He completed his residency in pathology at the Veterans Administration Hospital, Minneapolis, and returned in 1950 as chief of pathology; there he spent the remainder of his career.

While at the Minneapolis VA, he began the research that would lead to the Gleason grading system for prostate cancer diagnosis and prognosis. Between 1960 and 1964, Dr. Gleason examined histologic slides taken from 280 prostate cancer patients for the Veterans Administration Cooperative Urology Research Group. He noticed five recurring patterns in the appearance of the cells and other structures in the tissue. A subsequent comparison with the patients’ outcomes showed a close correlation between the cell pattern and the severity of the cancer. By 1978, use of the Gleason system of grading tumors was widespread.

Dr. Gleason is survived by his wife Nancy, daughters Donna, Sue, and Ginger, a sister, and nine grandchildren.