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Dr. Jose Russo, the Director of the Fox Chase Breast Cancer Research Lab. Photo: AL DÍA Archives. 
Dr. Jose Russo, the Director of the Fox Chase Breast Cancer Research Lab. Photo: AL DÍA Archives. 

Dr. Jose Russo, respected longtime physician-scientist and cancer researcher, dies

Dr. Russo dedicated over 60 years of his life to cancer research, treatment and prevention, spending the last 30 years with the Fox Chase Cancer Center. 

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Dr. Jose Russo, a man who has spent more than a half-century working on cancer research and prevention, has died at the age of 79.

He most recently served as Director of the Fox Chase Breast Cancer Research Lab in Philadelphia, after originally joining the staff of the Fox Chase Cancer Center as Chairman of the Department of Pathology and Director of the Breast Cancer Research Laboratory (BCRL) in 1991. 

Dr. Russo was born on March 24, 1942, in Rivadavia, Argentina. His parents and grandparents were of Italian descent and lived in Catania, Sicily, before taking part in the large Italian migration to Argentina during the beginning of the 20th century. 

He was 10 years old when he decided he wanted to be a researcher and study medicine, presenting him the best path to work on his ultimate goal of studying cancer. Upon attending the Colegio Nacional Agustin Alvarez in Mendoza, Argentina, he learned the basics he needed to progress.

After that, he attended medical school at Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, where he studied experimental pathology.

It was there he met his first wife, Irma, in 1961. Both, at the time, were working at the Institute for Histology and Human Development where they often shared the same laboratory space.

In 1969, the two married and relocated to the United States, where they began their professional work in Detroit, Michigan in 1971.

Together, the two of them founded the Breast Cancer Research Laboratory (BCRL), authored more than 200 papers and obtained more than $35 million in grants for their efforts towards breast cancer research.

While in Detroit, Dr. Russo spent several years as a member of the Michigan Cancer Foundation’s Department of Pathology and was later promoted to chairman. He was also a clinical associate professor of pathology at Wayne State University Medical School. 

In 1991, Dr. Russo moved the laboratory to Philadelphia and three years later, the BCRL was established as a separate entity from the Pathology Department at Fox Chase.

After his wife passed away in 2013 — from the very disease the two of them spent the majority of their lives researching and preventing — the BCRL was renamed the “Irma H. Russo, MD, Breast Cancer Research Laboratory” in her memory, while Russo continued the meaningful work and contributions to the field.

In addition to his professional work as a cancer researcher, Dr. Russo was also a supporter, board member and trustee of the AL DÍA Foundation from the very beginning. 

In 2018, he was recognized as an AL DÍA Archetype during the annual AL DÍA Archetypes Hispanic Heritage Awards event for his contributions to the field of health. 

During his acceptance speech in 2018, Dr. Russo highlighted his desire to continue spending the rest of his days working, and understanding more about treating and preventing breast cancer.

He continued the work until he could no longer physically do so. 

Dr. Russo's viewing and funeral will take place at Helwig & Rowland Funeral Home in Abington, Pa. on Friday, Oct. 1. The burial will take place at Laurel Hill cemetery immediately following the funeral.

The AL DÍA Foundation sends condolences to the Russo family. 

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