Emil J Freireich, MD

Emil J Freireich, MD
University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas

Emil J Freireich, MD | Class of 2014

Renowned for his landmark role in developing an effective treatment for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia, Dr. Freireich also proved the utility of combination chemotherapy and neoadjuvant therapy, two of the most important cancer treatments in the 20th century. Dr. Freireich and his colleagues were pioneers in the true sense. Even in the somewhat chaotic early days of experimental chemotherapy, their research pushed the limits of experimental therapeutics; when one combination did not work or resistance developed, they quickly tried another, then another, until they found the three-drug combination that today saves the lives of 75 percent of children with this cancer.

Following this research, Dr. Freireich did not rest on his laurels but went on to become the first to perform leukocyte transfusion and show that peripheral blood stem cells could be engrafted, thus leading to allogeneic bone marrow grafts. He was instrumental in developing allogeneic platelet transfusion for managing thrombocytopenia as well as treatments for infectious complications, and he developed the first continuous-flow blood cell separator. Dr. Freireich was a pioneer in the application of cytogenetic and molecular genetics to patient care and in evaluating the effects of therapy, including detection of minimal residual disease.

His research and clinical work in the leukemia department at MD Anderson has been highlighted by his leadership in medical education. The recipient of almost every teaching award at the institution and many national and international education awards, he directs the special medical education programs, oversees the physician-scientist training program, chairs curriculum committees, and helps organize the core curriculum. Notably, Dr. Freireich also obtained one of the first formal training program grants in medical oncology at MD Anderson.

Career Highlights

2019  AACR Award for Lifetime Achievement in Cancer Research​
2008  Paul Ehrlich Magic-Bullet Lifetime Achievement Award
2005  Gerald P. Bodey, Sr., Distinguished Award
2003  Pollin Prize for Pediatric Research, Columbia University
2001  Cino del Duca Award, 11th International Congress on Anti-Cancer Treatment
2000  Charles A. LeMaistre Outstanding Achievement Award
1996  Medical Oncology Fellows Outstanding Teacher Award, MD Anderson Cancer Center
1996  Return of the Child Award, Leukemia Society of America
1990  First NIH Distinguished Alumni Award
1983  Charles F. Kettering Prize, General Motors Cancer Research Foundation
1981  Jeffrey A. Gottlieb Memorial Award, MD Anderson Cancer Center
1979  de Villiers International Achievement Award, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society
1976  David A. Karnofsky Memorial Award and Lecture, ASCO
1972  Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award
1949  MD, University of Illinois College of Medicine