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Alexander Fefer

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 23 November 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c6712
  1. Ned Stafford
  1. 1Hamburg, Germany
  1. ns{at}

Oncologist who showed that adoptive transfer of T cells could eradicate cancer

Alexander Fefer never intended to be a doctor. When, as a senior at Harvard University he finally decided to attend medical school, he planned to become a psychiatrist and not a medical researcher. But a funny thing happened after he started his first year at Stanford University School of Medicine in the autumn of 1959.

“Alex happened to stop in a corridor to watch a faculty member supervise the unloading of cages of mice for his research lab,” recalled his wife of 51 years, Thea Fefer. “The professor offered him a job cleaning mouse cages in exchange for an opportunity to hang out in his lab and learn what medical researchers do. Alex accepted and eventually started helping out the lab assistants and eventually got more and more involved in the process.”

Foundation of cancer research

In February 1962 the young medical student received his first citation, coauthoring a paper that was lead authored by Gus Nossal, the professor who offered him the opportunity to clean mice cages and who would return to Australia to become a globally renowned immunologist. Less than six years after that first paper and not yet 30 years …

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