Obituary: Professor Matthew Kaufman, 70

Professor Matthew Kaufman. PIc: comp
Professor Matthew Kaufman. PIc: comp
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A PIONEER of stem cell therapy who developed world-leading practices through working with mice has died in Edinburgh.

Professor Matthew Kaufman was the first to culture the embryonic stem cells of the small rodents and cultivate them in a laboratory.

The academic went on to produce The Atlas of Mouse Development – an internationally regarded textbook on the subject of mouse embryology.

His works also included a host of papers on medical history, including anatomy teaching in Edinburgh in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Prof Kaufman passed away on August 11 at the age of 70 in the city where he started his academic career at Edinburgh University in 1960.

He was born at London’s Hackney Hospital and attended Westminster City Grammar School. The researcher qualified in Edinburgh in 1967 before becoming a senior house officer at the Luton and Dunstable Hospital – the workplace where he met nurse and future wife, Claire.

He returned to Edinburgh to work in obstetrics at the Simpson Memorial Maternity Pavilion for another year. That experience made up his mind that his future was in academia where he was particularly interested in reproductive biology.

A short stint as a research associate at the Institute of Animal Genetics at Edinburgh University involved working on in vitro fertilisation research.

Prof Kaufman then started his PhD in physiology at Cambridge University in 1970, spending 15 years there apart from two years spent in Israel where he worked on parthenogenesis – virgin birth – in mice.

Skills developed across the course of his work at Cambridge led to a collaboration in 1981 with Dr Martin Evans.

The pair developed the ground-breaking methodology for pluripotential stem cells in tissue culture – findings that would lay the groundwork for future studies in stem cell biology, chimera formation and cloning. The cells were initially named EK [Evans-Kaufman] cells, but are now known simply as ES [embryonic stem] cells.

A move back to Edinburgh University in 1985 led to Prof Kaufman’s appointment as professor of anatomy and head of department.

He helped prepare 3D reconstructions of many of the stages of mouse development and explored normal development and abnormalities that occur when an embryo is exposed to stress factors like alcohol.

Prof Kaufman was also curator of the university’s anatomy collections and was elected Emeritus Professor of anatomy in 2008.

Away from work, the academic favoured wearing a black beret and was a regular figure on the Edinburgh Bypass taking his vintage Armstrong Siddeley out for a spin.

He is survived by Claire, his sons Simon and David and grandchildren Angus and Georgia.