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Pierre Massion

Colleagues and patients mourn his passing

October 6, 2021 | Tom Wilemon

Pierre Massion, MD, Cornelius Vanderbilt Chair and Professor of Medicine, an internationally known expert on early detection and prevention strategies for lung cancer, died April 4 of an apparent heart attack. He was 58.

Dr. Massion was director of the Cancer Early Detection and Prevention Initiative and co-leader of the Cancer Health Outcomes and Control Research Program at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC). He was director of Faculty Development in the Division of Allergy, Pulmonary, and Critical Care Medicine and served as a member of the Diversity Liaison Committee in the Department of Medicine.

He received the Patricia A. Stern Award from the LUNGevity Foundation, the ASCO Foundation Advanced Clinical Research Award in Lung Cancer, and the Damon Runyon Lilly Clinical Investigator Award. He was named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2015.

“Pierre was a physician, scientist and leader who exemplified the spirit of discovery, service and caring, all hallmarks of our Vanderbilt community,” said Jennifer Pietenpol, PhD, B.F. Byrd Jr. Professor of Oncology, director of VICC, Executive Vice President for Research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and holder of the Brock Family Directorship in Career Development.

“He was very committed to his patients and colleagues, deliberate and comprehensive in his approach to research, and passionate in advocating for changes in public policy and clinical protocols to lessen the burden of cancer. He was a quintessential collaborator who was generous with his expertise and time. In addition to his remarkable achievements, he was a devoted friend who will be dearly missed by all of us at Vanderbilt and by many world­wide. Our hearts are with his family.”

Dr. Massion received his undergraduate and medical degrees from Université catholique de Louvain in Louvain, Belgium, where he also completed a residency in internal medicine at St-Luc Hospital. In 1990, he came to the United States for a postdoctoral fellowship in pulmonary research at Cardiovascular Research Institute at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). He returned to Belgium in 1994 for a clinical fellowship in pulmonary medicine at Université catholique de Louvain, then came back to the United States a year later for a residency in internal medicine at UCSF-Mount Zion Medical Center, followed by a pulmonary and critical care medicine fellowship at UCSF.

He joined VUMC in 2001, where he specialized in cancer care and established a research lab that made multiple discoveries related to cancer biomarkers, the evaluation of pulmonary nodules and screening protocols to improve early detection of lung cancer.

“I am deeply saddened by the loss of my friend and colleague, Pierre Massion,” said Timothy Blackwell, MD, Rudy W. Jacobson Professor of Pulmonary Medicine and director of the Division of Allergy, Pulmonary, and Critical Care Medicine. “Pierre has been an integral part of our family in the Division of Allergy, Pulmonary, and Critical Care Medicine for the last 20 years. In many ways, he represents the best aspects of our group and of Vanderbilt. He was a fabulous scientist and mentor, a top-notch clinician and teacher, and a caring and compassionate human being. His optimism and inquisitive nature were contagious. He was completely devoted to his family, to his laboratory group and to helping patients with lung cancer. It has been an incredible privilege to work with him and to count him as a friend.”

Dr. Massion was loved by his patients, including Sallie Sawyer of Gladeville, Tennessee, who created and gifted him a quilt to express her gratitude.

“When I was notified of Dr. Massion’s passing, I was totally shocked and devastated,” she said. “I will never forget him. He was the best physician anyone could ever having during and after my two episodes of lung cancer, the second being metastatic to the brain. After I was cured of all cancer, I was so blessed to have his friendship that lasted until his passing. I thank the good Lord every day for sending him to me.”

During his 20 years at Vanderbilt, Dr. Massion trained dozens of junior faculty, postdoctoral trainees, graduate students, undergraduates and summer students. He was passionate about mentoring and graciously extended his time to his students and trainees.

Dr. Massion brought enthusiasm to all facets of his work. He authored more than 180 studies, was a reviewer for multiple medical journals and a member of the editorial board for European Respiratory Journal.

Dr. Massion’s work was greatly inspired by his faith. He is survived by his wife, Tebeb Gebretsadik, his sons, Samuel, Thomas and Elias, his parents, Jacques and Claire Massion, and siblings, Anne, Brigitte, Catherine and Paul.