E.mil J. Freireich, an influential cancer researcher who pioneered new approaches to the treatment of chemotherapy and leukemia, died on February 1 at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, where he worked for 50 years. He was 93 years old.
“Dr. Freireich was a giant in modern medicine whose effects on cancer are unparalleled,” said Peter Pisters, president of MD Anderson, in a statement from the institution. “For more than 60 years he has pushed boundaries and dedicated himself to saving young people Dedicated to life and the relief of suffering. Dr. Freireich’s compassion and empathy, which focuses on the holistic needs of individual patients, was associated with scientific creativity and perseverance. “
Freireich, known to his friends and colleagues as Jay, was born to Hungarian immigrants in 1927 and grew up poor in downtown Chicago, according to MD Anderson. He graduated from the University of Illinois College of Medicine in 1949 at the age of 22. After an internship and stint at two Chicago hospitals and a fellowship in hematology at the Massachusetts Memorial Hospital in Boston, Freireich joined the National Cancer Institute in 1955 and was assigned to the children’s leukemia ward on his first day.
“Leukemia was a terrible disease at the time – a death sentence,” said Freireich in a 2015 interview. “Leukemia prevents blood clotting,” he said at the time. “Children bled to death. The leukemia station looked like a slaughterhouse. Blood covered the pillowcases, floor, and walls. . . it was terrible. “
Despite the skepticism of his colleagues, Freireich believed that leukemia patients bled to death due to a lack of blood-lingering cell fragments, so-called platelets. He found that mixing platelets from his own blood with the blood of leukemia patients resulted in normal clotting, and infusions of platelets in patients stopped bleeding. Crucially, the platelets had to be fresh in order to do their blood clotting work – those that donated blood are only effective for about 48 hours.
These results virtually eliminated bleeding deaths in leukemia patients and, according to the 2015 interview, led to the development of the first continuous-flow blood flow separator that separates platelets from donated blood.
In collaboration with other researchers, Freireich developed a new approach to chemotherapy with several cancer drugs that had previously been administered separately. The combination of highly toxic drugs had serious side effects in children with leukemia, but the treatment was effective. “They said I was unethical and inhuman and that I would kill the children. Instead, 90 percent of them went into remission immediately. It was magical, “said Freireich in 2015.
The combination of chemotherapy drugs has since been used to treat many other cancers and is considered a major breakthrough in oncology. The Washington Post Reports.
“DR. Freireich’s creative passion and determination to overcome medical barriers resulted in life-saving treatments for his young leukemia patients,” said Jordan Gutterman, professor of leukemia at MD Anderson, in the statement. “Most pioneering ideas are considered insane when introduced to the scientific community. These ‘crazy’ ideas often turn into revolutionary medical and scientific advances. “
Freireich joined MD Anderson in 1965. He led the leukemia research program for decades and stayed at the facility until he retired in 2015. During his tenure, he trained hundreds of physicians and scientists, and helped create protocols for randomized clinical trials. Freireich contributed to more than 700 scientific papers and books in his career and received numerous awards and prizes for his cancer research, blood separation technology and teaching.
“He was a preeminent figure in oncology and inspired generations of oncologists and cancer researchers,” says Siddhartha Mukherjee, Columbia University oncologist and hematologist and author post.
Freireich is survived by his wife Haroldine Lee Cunningham, four children and their partners, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.