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Obituary: Professor Samuel Lee

28 August 2012
Appeared in BioNews 670
Sammy Lee, visiting professor in the Research Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, University College London (UCL), since 2010, and visiting professor in biomedical science at the ABC Medical School in São Paulo, Brazil, an expert on fertility and IVF, passed away suddenly on 21 July 2012.

Sammy originally researched his PhD at UCL under the supervision of Professor Ricardo Miledo in the school of Sir Bernard Katz (with whom he enjoyed playing chess).

Sammy realised that many of the questions framed by his neuroscience research were rooted in the matter of differentiation. The ultimate undifferentiated cell is the fertilised egg. This led Sammy to work on gap junctions in early mammalian embryos in the Anatomy and Embryology department at UCL, where work with Professor Anne Warner and Dame Anne McLaren produced new information on factors affecting communication between cells and their developmental potential.

He was a hospital scientific consultant and was the chief scientist at the Wellington IVF programme. Sammy became a clinical embryologist in 1985, when working with the gynaecologist Ian Craft he directed the IVF laboratory at the Wellington Hospital in London, then one of the largest units in the world. Consultancy work with the UK division of Ares Serono (1986 to 1994) also involved work with the Bourn Hallam Group, which Patrick Steptoe and Bob Edwards had set up after Louise Brown's birth. From 1995 to 2002 he was based at the Portland Hospital for Women & Children.

Latterly, Sammy became based again at UCL. He was interested in tissue engineering and teaching ethics in reproduction. Sammy also had a keen interest in ethics and expressed this at UCL by running a course entitled 'Ethics of Biomedical Research'. Sammy's team at the Wellington pioneered the first UK practice of gamete intra-fallopian transfer (GIFT).

The team was the second to carry out GIFT and then proceeded to post the largest series in the world in 1986. Sammy also helped perform some of the first egg donations in the UK, when directing the Wellington Hospital IVF Laboratory. Sammy pioneered a simple inexpensive efficient form of mechanical assisted hatching in the UK. He produced the world's first intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI with NASBA virus assay) virus-free baby to an HIV-discordant couple.

In September 2009, Sammy organised a one day conference and debate co-sponsored by the Progress Educational Trust, entitled 'Motherhood in the 21st Century' at UCL Speakers included Peter Brinsden, Consultant Medical Director at Bourn Hall Clinic, Professor Lord Robert Winston and Professor Shere Hite, together with UCL's Professors John Carroll and Claudio Stern. This popular conference explored the reasons why some women choose to become mothers late in life; it also focused on the ethical issues.

Sammy was a great friend to many in the community and he will be remembered not only for his research, but also for being a skilled, patient and kind teacher. He will be greatly missed by his colleagues, his wife, Karen, and their children Joyce and Jonathan.

In accordance with Sammy's long-standing wish to support his students in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, Sammy's wife and children have asked UCL to set up a fund in Sammy's memory. Family, friends, colleagues are kindly invited to contribute to this fund.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
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