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Anthony Epstein

Credit: Sir Anthony Epstein

Sir Anthony Epstein CBE FMedSci FRS


Elected: 1979


Anthony Epstein is a virologist, noted for discovering a new herpes virus (later named Epstein–Barr virus (EBV) after him) while searching for a causative virus in a lymphoid children’s cancer, Burkitt lymphoma (BL). This was the first discovery of a human cancer virus. An essential step in the search involved growing BL cells in the lab and Anthony thus achieved the first culture of any human lymphocytic cell — a technique important for many other investigations.

Silent EBV infection occurs in very young children worldwide, but with cofactors causes BL in African children and cancer of the nose in Southern Chinese adults. It also causes some Hodgkin lymphomas, and cancers in immunosuppressed HIV sufferers and bone marrow recipients. Infection delayed until adolescence may lead to self-limiting glandular fever.

Anthony has received many awards, medals, and scientific honours, including four significant international prizes. He served as Royal Society Vice-President and Foreign Secretary for five years, twice on its Council and on many national and international scientific advisory boards. He was knighted in 1991.

Interests and expertise

Subject groups


Epstein-Barr virus, human tumour viruses, tumour viruses


  • Florey Lecture

    On 'Vaccine prevention of virus-induced human cancers'.

  • Humphry Davy and Claude Bernard Lectures

    On 'The vaccination programme to prevent Epstein-Barr virus-associated cancers in man'.

  • Leeuwenhoek Medal and Lecture

    On 'A prototype vaccine to prevent Epstein-Barr (E.B.) virus-associated tumours'.

  • Royal Medals

    Distinguished for the isolation of the Epstein-Barr virus which is closely associated with Burkitts lymphoma.