In Memoriam - David Thorley-Lawson


David A. Thorley-Lawson, Professor of Integrative Physiology and Pathobiology at Tufts University Sackler School of Medicine, died on June 25, 2017 in Cambridge, MA. He was 68.

David earned his bachelor’s degree in Biology from the University of East Anglia. He then studied Biochemistry at the National Institute for Medical Research in England, where he completed his doctorate under Dr. Michael Green. There he met Brigitte Huber, who was completing her doctorate in Immunogenetics at the University of London. They married and moved together to Massachusetts, where David continued his training as a postdoctoral researcher at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

David spent his 35-year career at Tufts investigating Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), an important human tumor virus (or, as he would write, tumour virus), which is closely associated with several types of lymphoma. In particular, he focused on how EBV is able to persist within the infected host. Perhaps his most important work was characterizing, at the level of single infected cells, precisely which viral genes are expressed in specific cell populations. He correlated these findings with patterns of gene expression produced by different lymphomas to provide evidence supporting a causative link between EBV and tumorigenesis. He also developed an elegant model for EBV latency and persistence in the infected host. These seminal studies have had a major impact on the EBV research field.

Over the course of his career, David trained more than 30 students and mentored many more. He was the Immunology Qualifying Exam Moderator for many years and enjoyed working with students and challenging them to think critically about research and science. His understanding of the literature, keen intellect, and sheer love of science made him a formidable opponent in any debate and an engaging lecturer. He was recognized internationally for his scientific contributions.

David was as large as life, with many passions outside of the lab. He had a great appreciation for theater and literature, especially Shakespeare and David Foster Wallace. He was an inaugural season-ticket holder for the New England Revolution and coached his sons’ soccer team for many years. He loved cooking large meals for family and friends and taking long walks in the wilderness. He always played his music loud, be it Pink Floyd or Mahler, and enjoyed playing the recorder. He and his wife travelled widely throughout their lives together, for both work and pleasure. Their home was always open to visiting colleagues, friends, and family, who frequently enjoyed their hospitality for days, weeks, or months at a time.

He is remembered by his family, including his wife, children and grandchildren, his many graduate students who carry on his love of science and inquiry, and his friends throughout the world. We mourn his passing as a great loss, but know he is at peace and that his legacy – as a father, as a scientist, as a friend – will never be forgotten.

A memorial is being planned. For more information, please email: