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Dr. R Ian Freshney passed away on 6 January 2019. He was a distinguished scientist and will be much missed by the cell culture community.

Dr. R Ian Freshney passed away on 6 January 2019. He was a distinguished scientist and will be much missed by the cell culture community.

Freshney’s background

R. Ian Freshney was born in Scotland in 1938 and graduated in Zoology from Glasgow University in 1960. He started his research career in the Department of Biochemistry, also in Glasgow, and graduated from his PhD in 1964. His early research focused on the regulation of enzyme activity in cultured cells and the relevance of this to the expression of the specialized phenotype in culture.

He spent 1964 - 1965 in Madison, Wisconsin, working with Dr. Robert Auerbach on cell interaction and differentiation of embryonic mouse liver. After his return to Glasgow from Madison, he joined the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research and worked there until 1981, when he transferred to the Cancer Research Department of Medical Oncology at Glasgow University, where he became a senior lecturer in charge of the administration of the laboratory, with teaching in experimental pathology, medical biochemistry, immunology and cancer nursing.

By this time, his research interests had turned to human tumour cultures, principally culturing early passage cell lines from brain tumours to develop a predictive test for chemosensitivity. He spent a few months in Dr. Richard Ham's laboratory, testing the growth of glioma cell lines in serum-free medium, finding considerable variation among glioma lines tested, but gaining a greater understanding of the underlying principles.

He then turned to examining the effects of glucocorticoids on glioma and lung carcinoma in vitro. These studies implicated cell surface modification in the response to glucocorticoids and initiated a return of interest to cell-cell interaction in an attempt to regulate malignancy by inducing expression of differentiation. Studies with lung carcinoma confirmed that lung fibroblasts produced a factor which induced differentiation in the lung carcinoma cell line A549 and that this effect could be reproduced with cytokines such as oncostatin M, interleukin-6 and interferon b. The action of conditioned medium, and of the cytokines, required dexamethasone, a synthetic glucocorticoid analogue, and it was shown that this was due to induction of synthesis by the A549 of a specific heparan sulphate which activated the fibroblast conditioned medium and the cytokines, possibly by stabilization or translocation to the high affinity receptor.

His interests later on were focused on cell culture in general, and on cell-cell interaction and paracrine control of cell differentiation, in particular. He taught a number of international basic and specialised cell culture courses. He is the author of Culture of Animal Cells, a Manual of Basic Technique, and has edited, or co-edited six other books on specialised cell culture. He has also written numerous reviews and original articles in the areas of cell culture, cytotoxicity assays, and induction of differentiation in vitro.


Freshney was a member of International Cell Line Authentication Committee (ICLAC); you can read their tribute on the ICLAC website here.


Jim Cooper (ECACC) remembers Ian…

Ian was one of the most knowledgeable, sympathetic, patient and pragmatic scientists it has ever been my honour to meet. His knowledge of cell culture was encyclopaedic but there was never a trace of ego; he constantly re-evaluated his knowledge and could strike up a great conversation with anyone he met regardless of their background. With a positive attitude, clarity of thought and, when required, an impish sense of humour and an anecdote for any occasion it was always a pleasure to work and socialise with him.

Several years ago Ian wrote an inscription on the inside cover of a copy of his magnum opus “Culture of Animal Cells” that we awarded to a student on one of our training courses – it read something like: “A cell culturist should be proud of their work and look down the microscope and admire what they have done, as a gardener surveys a well-tended rose garden”.

Ian will be sadly missed by me and all at the PHE Culture Collections but he has left us with such warm memories.


Chris Morris (formerly ECACC), remembers Ian…

I first met Ian Freshney shortly after I joined the newly formed European Collection of Animal Cell Cultures at Porton in 1984. Colleagues from many of the laboratories to which we were supplying cell cultures, suggested that we organise training courses for those new to cell culture; not only to provide them with lectures on the latest scientific developments in culturing animal cells, but also essential training in best laboratory practise. 

Ian was widely known in the field of cell culture and had published his first edition of Culture of Animal Cells: a manual of basic technique in 1983. When we asked him to be the keynote lecturer for our course, he graciously accepted, and continued to support the course over a number of years.

His extensive knowledge and obvious enthusiasm made him a popular choice with the hundreds of participants who attended the courses over the years. I frequently heard him offering advice and encouragement to those who were struggling to overcome technical issues in their laboratory. For me this epitomised Ian, a highly respected researcher who could switch from discussing the esoteric discoveries in cell biology, to the seemingly mundane practical problems of handling cell cultures.

Ian had a way of making you feel like he was your friend, even when you had only known him a short while. Something I appreciated from our first meeting. His patience and sense of good humour were enduring qualities, which I will always remember him by. Ian’s contribution to the science of cell culture was immense. As the saying goes, ‘he will be a hard act to follow’, and as with many others, I will miss him greatly. 


January 2020