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Emil J Freireich, MD

March 16,1927 – February 1, 2021


Dedication of the fourth Edition of "The MD Anderson Manual of Medical Oncology" to Emil J Freireich, a Legendary Trailblazer in Cancer and Leukemia Research and Therapy

Emil J Freireich was a founding father of modern cancer research, and leader of the world's first generation of cancer research pioneers.

Following his medical training at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago, and internal medicine training at Cook County Hospital and Presbyterian Hospital, he moved to the National Cancer Institute (1955-1965), where he made his first seminal discoveries: the benefit of platelet transfusions in reducing bleeding; the design of the first-ever continuous-flow blood cell separator that extracted platelets from whole blood; the development of multidrug regimens that paved the way for the cure of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).

In 1965, Freireich moved to Houston and spent the next 55 years at MD Anderson, his real home. He was a founding member of the institution, which owed much of its early success and reputation to his work and that of his mentees. Freireich's name became synonymous with that of MD Anderson. He created a department of Developmental Therapeutics (DT), dedicated to medical cancer research and to developing novel cancer strategies. Over the next 15 years, he attracted hundreds of cancer researchers from all over the world who, like him, were convinced that cancer was curable and were determined to accomplish this. Many of the early chemotherapy drugs (cytarabine, Adriamycin, cisplatin, others) were developed during this period, and became building blocks for curative combinations. Together with Dr Gerald Bodey, Freireich discovered the association between neutropenia and increased risk of infections and developed the concept of empiric antibiotic therapy to prevent and treat fever and infections in patients with cancer. This, along with platelet transfusions, made cancer care safer and opened the research venues for intensive chemotherapy and stem cell transplantation in hematologic and solid tumors. The pheresis machines he helped to create were later used to collect stem cells for the purpose of transplantation.

In DT, and later as a senior leader at MD Anderson, Freireich trained and mentored hundreds of oncologists, many of whom later created their own legacies and helped hundreds of thousands of patients with cancer. He also created in 1966 the first training fellowship program in cancer and established clinical-translational research and care as a new critical discipline in oncology.

To the hundreds of us who trained under Freireich, he and his stories and education are indelibly cemented in our memories. In recognition of his massive contributions to education in cancer research and care, we dedicate this fourth edition to Emil J Freireich.

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