Jeff Morgan, Jeff.Morgan@iowa.gov, (515)
(DES MOINES) – The
rise of Lucas County’s Walter Heston from an Iowa farm boy to a world-renowned
cancer researcher is chronicled in the most recent issue of Iowa
Heritage Illustrated, a quarterly magazine published by the State Historical
Society of Iowa.
The story is written by Heston’s
great-nephew, State Representative Mark Smith (D-Marshalltown), who takes readers
on a journey from a farmhouse near tiny Woodburn, Iowa, to the upper echelons
of the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, where Heston’s work
from 1940 to 1975 impacted the future of cancer research around the world.
“It is only in reading about
and pasting together his life’s work that I became aware of his contributions
in charting a new course for cancer research,” Smith writes in the story.
“At a time when the average citizen had little hope of surviving cancer,
when the study of genetics was still ‘on the crest of cancer research,’
(he) had the scientist’s ability to look cancer in the eye and not flinch.”
Born in 1909, Heston earned a degree
in zoology in 1932 from Iowa State College and in 1936 became the first Ph.D.
graduate in zoology from Michigan State College. His career took him to Texas,
New Mexico and Maine before he settled in Maryland at the National Cancer Institute,
where he specialized in mammalian genetics. During his long career at NCI, he
established breeding colonies of a particular strain of mice that were ideal for
“Heston was the mammalian
geneticist who established a relationship between specific genes and the occurrences
of certain cancers,” Smith writes of his great-uncle. “The importance
of (his) work with mice lay in his organization and maintenance of the colony
that was the basis for much of the genetic work at the National Cancer Institute.”
Heston retired in 1975 and moved
to Florida, where he enjoyed raising mangoes and citrus fruit in his backyard.
He died in 1998 at age 88.
To order a copy of Iowa
Heritage Illustrated, call (319) 335-3916 or visit the State Historical
Building’s museum store at 600 E. Locust in Des Moines or the Western Historic
Trails Center store at 3434 Richard Downing Avenue in Council Bluffs.
The State Historical Society of
Iowa is a trustee of Iowa’s historical legacy and an advocate for understanding
Iowa’s past. It identifies, records, collects, preserves, manages and provides
access to Iowa’s historical resources. Its dual mission of preservation
and education serves Iowans of all ages, conducts and stimulates research, disseminates
information, and encourages and supports historical preservation and education
efforts of others throughout the state.
to What's New Section