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Professor Sir Anthony Epstein

Professor Sir Anthony Epstein

Professor Sir Anthony Epstein was born on 18 May 1921 and died on 6 February 2024, aged 102 years. He was an Honorary Member of The Pathological Society, which he joined in 1952.

Anthony Epstein was the pathologist and virologist who co-discovered a virus which causes a rare form of lymphoma, known as Burkitt lymphoma. Epstein met Denis Burkitt at one of his lectures in 1961 and became interested in Burkitt’s identification of a new form of cancer he had observed often in lymph nodes associated with the jaws of children in the malaria ‘belt’ in Africa. Epstein agreed to analyse fresh tumour samples sent to him in London by Burkitt. Working with his laboratory assistant Yvonne Barr, Epstein grew a culture of cancerous cells for further study, from which he was able to identify a previously unknown virus (in 1964). This was published in The Lancet and named the Epstein-Barr virus, which he went on to show for the first time was a virus that could cause cancer in humans.

After qualifying as a doctor,  Epstein was appointed assistant pathologist at Middlesex Hospital. During his early career as a research assistant, he worked on the Rous Sarcoma virus (found in chickens with sarcomas). This experience influenced his realisation that viruses could cause cancer in animals. Following his discovery of the Epstein-Barr virus, Epstein was appointed Reader and Honorary consultant virologist at Middlesex Hospital Medical School. In 1968, he was made Professor of Pathology and Head of Department at the University of Bristol. Epstein was a fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1979, was its vice-president from 1986 to 1991; he was awarded the Society’s Royal Medal in 1992. In 1982 Epstein received the Award for Distinguished Achievement in Cancer Research. He was awarded a CBE in 1985, and a Knighthood in 1991.

The Pathological Society would like to acknowledge the tremendous and significant contributions of Professor Sir Anthony Epstein to medicine, virology and pathology.

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