Proton Therapy Leader, James D. Cox, MD, Dies at 80

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THE ACCLAIMED radiation oncologist James D. Cox, MD, led MD Anderson’s Proton Therapy Center, an international center of excellence for proton therapy, research, and education, distinguished as the world’s first proton therapy facility located within a comprehensive cancer center. At the 2017 National Proton Conference, Dr. Cox was recognized with a lifetime achievement award for his innovative contributions to the advancements in the field of proton therapy. Dr. Cox died on August 14, 2018, a month after celebrating his 80th birthday.

Dr. Cox was born in Steubenville, Ohio, and grew up in Dayton, Ohio. He excelled in high school, both academically and on the gridiron. After graduating high school, Dr. Cox entered Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, also playing on the school’s football team; he loved football and remained a lifelong enthusiast.

Guest Lecturer Opens Career Door

ALTHOUGH DR. COX developed a love of science early and majored in biology and chemistry at Kenyon, he had not decided to pursue a career in medicine until his junior year, when serendipity intervened. A professor of physiology from the University of Rochester came through Kenyon as a guest lecturer. He was also recruiting for the physiology laboratories at Rochester. He offered Dr. Cox an 8-week summer fellowship at the University of Rochester; during this fellowship, Dr. Cox decided to become a doctor. After graduating magna cum laude from Kenyon College, he went to the University of Rochester Medical School, where he met his first wife, Christa.

Pathology Course Sparks Interest in Cancer

DR. COX’S road to oncology began in his second year of medical school in a pathology course. While studying cancer cells, he became fascinated by the disease and the career possibilities. It wasn’t uncommon for medical students at the University of Rochester to take a year off for research, so Dr. Cox followed his burgeoning interest in cancer to pursue a clinical research fellowship project at the Penrose Cancer Center in 1963, where the pioneering radiation oncologist Juan del Regato, MD, took him under his wing, an experience that had a profound effect on Dr. Cox’s career.

After his fellowship at Penrose, Dr. Cox was offered a fellowship at the Institut Gustave Roussy in Paris, one of the world’s leading cancer research institutes and the premier European cancer center. It proved not only a valuable experience for his career, but his time in Paris formed an abiding passion for France, medieval history, and wine.

“At the 2017 National Proton Conference, Dr. Cox was recognized with a lifetime achievement award for his innovative contributions to the advancements in the field of proton therapy.”
— Ronald Piana

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Road to MD Anderson

DR. COX served in the U.S. Army at Walter Reed Hospital before beginning his academic career at Georgetown University. In 1973, he was appointed Founding Director of the Cancer Center at the Medical College of Wisconsin, where he met his second wife, radiation oncologist Ritsuko Komaki, MD.

Another opportunity knocked, and Dr. Cox accepted an offer to chair the Department of Radiation Oncology at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. Things did not go as planned at Columbia, and a year into his tenure he was recruited to MD Anderson Cancer Center in 1988 as Professor of Radiation Oncology, Physician-in-Chief, and Vice President of Patient Care, a position he held until 1992. From 1995 until his retirement in 2014, he served as Head of the Division and Chairman of Radiation Oncology. Shortly after his arrival at MD Anderson, Dr. Cox led the launch of the Proton Therapy Center, which opened in 2006.

Dr. Cox was a lover of life and traveled widely for work and pleasure, with his favorite destinations being France and Japan. He is survived by his wife, two children and five grandchildren.

‘Proud to Be Part of It’

DURING AN interview at an American Society for Radiation Oncology meeting, Dr. Cox was asked to summarize his greatest career satisfaction: “It has come from leading the division of radiation oncology for 15 years and helping it to become what it is today. The faculty, residents, collaborations with other departments and institutions [have] been fun and rewarding. The rapid technologic advances and the way they help our patients [are] truly gratifying, with protons being one of the most recent ones. We are only at the beginning of wedding these advances with molecular targeted agents, so there is much excitement in the future. I’m proud to be part of it.” ■