It is with great sadness to learn of the passing of Sir Anthony Epstein, one of the discoverers of the Epstein-Barr virus, at the age of 102. His work profoundly changed how scientists approach the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of a wide range of cancers and other diseases, and left an enduring mark on the fields of pathology, virology and oncology.

Tony Epstein was born in London in 1921 and was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge and Middlesex Hospital Medical School. After completing his medical training, Epstein began research into the Rous sarcoma retrovirus, the first oncogenic (cancer-causing) virus observed in animals.

In the early 1960s, Epstein began research into a peculiar tumour characterised by the rapid multiplication of white blood cells, which was first identified in Ugandan children by the surgeon Dennis Burkitt. In 1963, a shipment of tumour samples being flown from Uganda to London was diverted to Manchester due to poor weather, and when inspected appeared to have been contaminated. When Epstein and Yvonne Barr examined the samples under the microscope, however, the cloudy fluid that had developed around the samples proved to contain free-floating lymphoma cells. This represented the very first culture of a human lymphocytic cell, which would prove to be an essential technique for future investigations. Such cultures are now known as ‘EB’ cells.

We express our sincere condolescence!

SIOP Office