Dr. Emil Freireich, pioneer of modern leukemia therapy, dies at 93

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Emil Freireich, MD, an oncologist who worked at Houston-based University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center for more than 50 years, died at the center Feb. 1. He was 93. 

Early on in his career, Dr. Freireich led instrumental advancements in the treatment of childhood leukemia when he introduced the idea of treating the disease with combination chemotherapy. He created the first continuous-flow blood cell separator after uncovering that leukemia patients often bled to death because of insufficient platelets. Dr. Freireich also spearheaded the groundwork of randomized clinical trials, leading the world's first full-time, patient-centered clinical research in 1955 at the National Cancer Institute. 

"He truly is the father of modern leukemia therapy, being the first to test leukemia drugs and to drive innovation in a disease that no one else had the courage to confront with his force," said Hagop Kantarjian, MD, chair of leukemia at MD Anderson, who has known Dr. Freireich since 1978. 

Peter Pisters, MD, president of MD Anderson, called Dr. Freireich "a giant of modern medicine." 

MD Anderson recruited Dr. Freireich in 1965 to launch a chemotherapy program where he oversaw the development of drug combinations to treat various cancers. 

Dr. Freireich earned his medical degree at the age of 22 from Chicago-based University of Illinois College of Medicine in 1949. He went on to coauthor more than 600 scientific papers, more than 100 books, and is the recipient of an array of awards for his clinical cancer research. 

Dr. Freireich is survived by his wife, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

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