Washington State Magazine

Washington State Magazine :: Spring 2013

Spring 2013

Matters of taste

In This Issue...


How Washington Tastes—The Apple meets Cougar Gold :: One need not be an expert taster to appreciate the chemistry between the apple and Cougar Gold. by Tim Steury

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Guide: Heirloom apples in Washington }

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Infographic: The Cheddar cheese lexicon }

Passing the Smell Test :: Throughout the living world, the nose leads the way, pioneering a course through the environment with the ability to spot virtually invisible perils and prizes. by Eric Sorensen

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Video: Simple scents in retail }

Patrick Rothfuss ’02—World builder :: Life’s a fantasy for best-selling author Patrick Rothfuss. He invites us into his worlds, one real and one of his own invention. by Hannelore Sudermann

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Story: Tribble Trouble :: WSU professor emeritus Paul Brians and a look at the Icons of Science Fiction at Seattle’s Experience Music Project}

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Story: Literary Taste :: Experts' takes on the seminal works in literary genres}

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Gallery: The art of Nate Taylor ’02 }


Taste, an Accounting in Three Scenes :: I’d be lying if I claimed not to prefer the golf swings of Bobby Jones or Sam Snead to that of Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey. So I guess I’m a snob. by Bill Morelock ’77


{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Video: Replays, multiple views, and info in iStadium A look at the 3D-4U Solutions technology }


:: First Words: Tastes like Beethoven

:: Posts

:: In Season: The essential egg

:: Sports: Down Under to Pullman

:: Sports Extra: One happy ending

:: Last Words: Fruitful history

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Story: Training for Good Eggs The Shoups and the Puyallup poultry course }


{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Gallery: Labels and branding from No-Li Brewhouse }

New media

:: Treasure, Treason and the Tower: El Dorado and the Murder of Sir Walter Raleigh by Paul Sellin ’52

:: Montana Before History: 11,000 Years of Hunter-Gatherers in the Rockies and Plains by Douglas H. MacDonald ’94

:: Academic Motherhood: How Faculty Manage Work and Family by Kelly Ward and Lisa Wolf-Wendel

:: That One Spooky Night by Dan Bar-El, illustrated by David Huyck

On the cover: “Snow White” by Jung Von Matt for Ed. Wüsthof Dreizackwerk KG.

George R. “Bob” Pettit ’52. Photo Peter J. Kiss

George R. “Bob” Pettit ’52. Peter J. Kiss

George R. “Bob” Pettit ’52—A profile in persistence

by | © Washington State University

Every few days, Bob Pettit ’52 runs six miles. Now 83, he has done this since his late 20s, when he joined the faculty of the University of Maine and felt the mounting tensions of academic life.

“It’s a great release of stress,” he said this fall while visiting Pullman to receive the Regents’ Distinguished Alumnus Award, the highest honor for WSU alumni. “And I think aerobic exercise is the secret formula for longevity.”

Pettit’s running habit also speaks to his fortitude, whether he’s diving in waters around the world in a search for natural cures to cancer, finding new ways to process tons of marine organisms, or rebuilding his career after an administrative firestorm that, in effect, deprived him of access to a massive endowment, thousands of samples, scores of notebooks, and a multi-million dollar lab.

 “There are three ways to be successful,” he says. “Never give up, never give up, and never give up. Giving up is not my style.”

Pettit has been on the trail of a cure for cancer since his teens, when he first saw the ravages of the disease while working in a hospital pathology lab. At the same time, he was fascinated by the sea life around his home on the New Jersey shore. How is it, he wondered, that humans get cancer when these creatures never seem to? Somehow, he reasoned, they had developed anti-cancer compounds as they evolved over millions, even billions of years.

He earned a degree in chemistry at Washington State University before getting master’s and doctoral degrees at Wayne State University, where he studied with Carl Djerassi, who developed one of the first oral contraceptives. He started systematically collecting fungi at the University of Maine and continued at Arizona State University, broadening his searches to plants and marine animals around the world.

Off the Maldives, he collected black sponges and found in them spongistatin, a promising therapy for treatment-resistant cancers.

In South Africa, he collected the bush-willow tree, whose bark contains combretastatin A-1 and A-4, which are now being tested on cancers.

On the shallow reef off Mauritius, he collected sea hare, a mollusk, and isolated dolastatin 10, which led to the Seattle Genetis drug, Adcetris. He also developed a process to synthesize the compound to avoid using hundreds of tons of actual sea hare.

Overall, Pettit and his colleagues collected more than 14,000 marine species, as well as 3,000 plant species and 1,000 insect species. He attracted millions of dollars in funding. He founded the ASU Cancer Research Institute and designed its 60,000-square-foot building so a natural product could go in one end and a drug would come out the other. 

He patented more than five dozen cancer-fighting compounds. A dozen drugs discovered by Pettit and his colleagues are currently in one phase or another of human cancer clinical trials. One is also in trials in ophthalmology, another is in a trial against Alzheimer’s disease, and trials are planned for a drug to fight pregnancy preeclampsia.

But in the late ’90s, relations started to sour between Pettit and the ASU administration. Exactly why is unclear. A 2007 investigative report in the Phoenix New Times alludes to personality conflicts and differences over the direction of intellectual property, patent policy, and licensing agreements.

In January of 2006, the university froze Pettit’s funds and fired 30 researchers in his lab. He was cut off from an endowment given specifically to him and denied access to his notebooks and thousands of samples. He was moved back into the lab he was given when he first arrived at ASU in 1965.

With litigation still in play, Pettit is guarded about discussing details. ASU doesn’t discuss the matter.

Whatever the circumstances, the Pettit-ASU conflict became a national model for nasty academic disputes, cited by the Wall Street Journal in a page one story headlined, “Ivory Power.” It’s also the ultimate acid test of Pettit’s doggedness.

It’s safe to say most of us would have cried uncle, quit, retired, or looked for work elsewhere. Then again, most of us wouldn’t comb the planet for various ancient life forms and probe them for compounds to test. Pettit acknowledges as much and says he stayed at ASU, where he is a tenured Regents professor, out of a commitment to his fellow researchers and the cancer victims he hopes to help. 

It’s stressful, to be sure. But he has ways to deal with that.

“I run six miles every couple of days,” he says.

Categories: Chemistry, Alumni | Tags: Regents' Distinguished Alumnus Award, Cancer, Research

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