Brigham and Women’s Hospital mourns the loss of Martin C. Mihm Jr., MD, a physician, researcher and educator in the Department of Dermatology whose groundbreaking discoveries have saved lives and whose lifelong commitment to mentorship influenced generations of clinicians in the fields of dermatology, dermatopathology and pathology. He died on July 19, 2022 of a sudden illness at age 88.
An international expert on malignant melanoma, Dr. Mihm helped shape the way skin cancers are identified and diagnosed, and his discoveries and insights influenced the way these tumors are ultimately treated. Notably, he established the importance of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes — a type of cell that can recognize and destroy cancer cells — in contributing to the prognosis of patients with primary and metastatic melanoma. He also collaborated with the late melanoma expert Wallace Clark, MD, to create the current clinical categories for melanoma: superficial spreading, nodular, acral lentiginous and lentigo maligna.
“This is a man who has saved countless lives, and I am forever grateful for the degree to which he has enhanced my own life as a mentor and friend,” said Dermatology research colleague Tobias Schatton, PharmD, PhD, who recently partnered with Dr. Mihm on a melanoma study. “Martin set the prime example of how to live with integrity and purpose.”
In addition to his tremendous contributions to science and medicine, Dr. Mihm had an equally profound impact on others with his joyful spirit.
“Beyond his credentials, accomplishments, publications and degrees, Marty was a warm, funny, kind and generous man,” said Thomas Kupper, MD, chair of Dermatology. “His enthusiasm was palpable and infectious. He could make a microscope slide image come alive with subtle insights that, once pointed out, were obvious. He was also considerate, taking time to know the names of all the residents and students in the program and to learn about people around him. He truly was one of a kind — the sort of character who comes along rarely, like a comet leaving light and brilliance in his wake.”
Colleague and friend Jennifer Lin, MD, director of the Melanoma Risk and Prevention Clinic, reflected that Dr. Mihm was always ready to share his experiences and words of encouragement with those around him.
“He had a kind word for everybody,” Lin said. “His enthusiasm and positivity were contagious — and made coming to work so wonderful.”
Dr. Mihm’s passions for life and medicine often intertwined. Lin recalled that Dr. Mihm and Dr. Clark named the “superficial spreading” category of melanoma after sharing the morphological pattern of this lesion with students from the Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and learning of a painting with similar morphology.
“That he could share his gifts and brilliance with us was a truly wonderful experience, and we are all better for it,” said Kupper.
Dr. Mihm was dedicated to promoting education and mentorship throughout his career. Beginning in 1974, he served as chief of the Massachusetts General Hospital Dermatopathology Unit, where he founded one of the first five dermatopathology training programs in the United States. In 1993, he joined the faculty of Albany Medical Center to establish a new dermatology and dermatopathology training program there.
“Through his mentorship and training for generations of residents, fellows and faculty, Martin’s impact will continue to grow exponentially,” Schatton said.
Beginning in 2010, Dr. Mihm served as director of the Melanoma Program in Dermatology and the Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center. He was also the founding director of the Mihm Consultative Service in Dermatopathology.
Over the course of his career, Dr. Mihm’s commitment to patient care inspired his work to make health care, particularly cancer treatment and prevention, more widely accessible. He was a co-founder of the Rare Tumor Institute of the World Health Organization in Milan, Italy, before acting as its external coordinator for five years, and he also helped establish clinics in Albania, India, Italy, Russia and Vietnam. Most recently, he served as co-director of the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer’s Melanoma Pathology Program.
Adriano Piris, MD, co-director of the Mihm Cutaneous Pathology Consultative Service, met Dr. Mihm after coming to Massachusetts General Hospital for his first dermatopathology rotation. Dr. Mihm soon became an important force in his life, as an inspiring mentor and a dear friend. Piris was honored to eventually work with Dr. Mihm as co-director of the Consultative Service.
“Words cannot express the meaningful impact Dr. Mihm had on my career. Over the years, he became a close friend and a family member. He embodied the concept of true mentorship and friendship for life,” Piris said.
Colleagues and friends noted that Dr. Mihm always remained committed to helping others and acting as a positive influence in people’s lives.
“Up until the final days of his life, he was committed to helping others through his unparalleled kindness, knowledge and compassion,” Schatton said. “Martin’s warmth to everyone around him, without exception, made him a very rare individual, and his absence will be felt by many.”
Dr. Mihm is survived by his cousins, godchildren and loving friends.