Dr. Phil Gold


Phil Gold was born in Montreal in 1936 and has remained a faithful citizen of that city but for periods of postdoctoral training and other periods of study spent studying away from home.  After obtaining his primary and secondary schooling in Montreal, Dr. Gold went on to McGill University where he obtained four degrees.  Although at one time his career might have been considered somewhat “checkered” in the ongoing oscillation between clinical medicine and basic biomedical science, it has now become rather prototypic for the training and activities of the Clinician-Scientist.

Dr. Gold obtained his B.Sc. in Honors Physiology in 1957 and then went on to an M.D.C.M. and an M.Sc. Degree in Physiology in 1961 for a Thesis on Erythropoietin based on summer research.  Medical Graduation was accompanied by the Wood Gold Medal for First Place High Aggregate Standing in the Final Year, the J. Francis Williams Scholarship in Medicine and Clinical Medicine, the Women’s Pavilion Prize in Obstetrics and Gynecology, and the Prize of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of the Province of Quebec in Pathology and Medicine.

After a year of Rotating Internship and another of Residency in General Internal Medicine, the next two years of 1963-1965 were spent in the laboratories of The McGill University Medical Clinic of The Montreal General Hospital (now The Montreal General Hospital Research Institute) obtaining a Ph.D. Degree of which the thesis title was, “Carcinoembryonic Antigens of the Human Digestive System”. Dr. Gold’s discovery of the Carcinoembryonic Antigen (CEA), along with the description of alpha-fetoprotein at about the same time, ushered in the modern era of human tumor marker research along with the rather broad ramifications that this work has had over the past 30 years.

To complete a summary of the CEA field at this point, the application of the recently developed technology of molecular biology and genetics has resulted in the definition of the complete gene structure for the carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) and studies have demonstrated a family for CEA genes which now form a sub-group of the immunoglobulin Superfamily.  Moreover, from both the structure of the gene and functional studies that have been done, it would appear that the molecules of the CEA family serve as Cell Adhesion Materials (CAMs) or, in some cases, as Cadherins.

In the meantime, the radioimmunoassay for circulating serum CEA has become the most frequently-used marker for human cancer, in various forms and settings. It has roles in detecting human tumor growth, in monitoring of patients post-operatively (perhaps its most important application) for radioimmunolocalization of tumors, and in both immunohistochemistry and immunocytochemistry. Most recently, experimental attempts have been made to eradicate tumors through the use of monoclonal anti-CEA antibody as a homing device for cancer cell cytotoxic agents and high dose radioisotopes, and the attempt to actively immunize patients against CEA by immunizing with the CEA gene incorporated into vaccine virus.

During training at the Public Health Research Institute of New York City in 1967-68 (as a Centennial Fellow of the Medical Research Council of Canada), the concepts and technology for electromicroscopy, tissue culture, virology and cell biology were acquired. Dr. Gold, then, returned to The Montreal General Hospital, its Research Institute and McGill University as an Assistant Professor of Medicine and a Medical Research Council Career Investigator.

Here the studies described above continued on CEA, along with related work on other tumor markers.  Clinically, the Division of Clinical Immunology and Allergy of The Montreal General Hospital served as a base and Dr. Gold subsequently became Director of the Division in 1977.  About a year later, while retaining the position just noted, Dr. Gold became the first Director of the McGill Cancer Centre where he stayed for four years.  This Centre has subsequently evolved into the Department of Oncology of McGill’s Faculty of Medicine – the first such University-based Department of Oncology in North America. During that period Dr. Gold moved through the ranks of Associate Professorship to become a Full Professor of Medicine and Physiology in 1972.

In 1980, Dr. Gold returned to The Montreal General Hospital as Physician-in-Chief and served as the Chairman of the Department of Medicine at McGill University for the statutory five-year period between 1985 and 1990.  In 1995 Dr. Gold stepped down from the position of Physician-in-Chief to become Executive Director of the Clinical Research Centre of the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre.  The other positions he currently holds include, Douglas G. Cameron Professor of Medicine, McGill University; and Professor, Departments of Physiology and Oncology, McGill University.

In recognition of the scientific contributions made by Dr. Gold, he has been the recipient of numerous international awards and honors and has been elected to a wide variety of scientific organizations.  Recognition from his country, province, city and university have come in the form of his having been made a Companion of the Order of Canada, an Officer of the L’Ordre nationale du Québec, a member of the Academy of Great Montrealers, and having been the recipient of the Gold Medal Award of Merit of The Graduate Society of McGill University.  He has been the Sir Arthur Sims Traveling Professor to the British Commonwealth. He has received a D.Sc (H.C. from McMaster University). In 2006, the Phil Gold Chair in Medicine was inaugurated at McGill University, and the first incumbent was selected in 2009.  He was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in 2010.