Professor Peter Gahan

Emeritus Professor of Cell Biology and Honorary Research Fellow at King’s College London

Emeritus Professor and cell biologist with a long connection with King’s College died suddenly at his home in Montpellier, France, on 26 May 2023.

Peter Brian Gahan was born in Sidcup, South London, on 23 August 1933 and educated at Chislehurst and Sidcup Grammar School. After national service in the army, he worked at the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) in London, where he acquired a taste for biological research. In 1957 he enrolled at University College London, and he graduated in 1960. He returned to the RCS to study for his PhD, working with proliferating cells, DNA and lipids, which set the scene for his future career. In 1962 he was appointed Assistant Lecturer in Botany at King’s College London, a post he held until 1966 – at which point he moved to Thames Polytechnic (later the University of Woolwich) and became Head of Biology. In 1970 he emigrated to Canada, where he was appointed Professor of Cell Science and Head of Electron Microscopy at the Memorial University of Newfoundland.

In 1974, he returned to the UK to Queen Elizabeth College (QEC) in the role of Professor of Botany. From 1979–85, he was Head of the Department of Biology and the Dean of Science, and from 1982–85 he was concurrently an Invited Professor at the University of Geneva. Following the 1985 merger between KCL, QEC and Chelsea College, he became Assistant Principal of the merged colleges. He formally retired in 1998, but continued to work at KCL in the School of Cancer & Pharmaceutical Studies until he moved to Montpellier. From there, he continued to work with colleagues in the University’s Institute of Medical Research and Hamburg University right up to his death.

Peter’s initial research was concerned with plant lysosomes and the cellular mechanisms involved in the differentiation of plant roots. He then became interested in the circulating nucleic acids (CNAPS) released into the bloodstream when cells die. CNAPS are markers of tumours and other disease conditions, areas in which Professor Gahan was an authority. Peter published his first paper in 1957 and over 66 years authored or co-authored nine books, 253 papers or abstracts, and 22 book chapters (the most recent of which was completed just before his death).

Peter was actively involved in the wider field of the biological sciences. He was an active Fellow of the Institute of Biology (now the Royal Society of Biology) and served as Vice-President from 1990–92 and was a Council Member of the Royal Microscopical Society and the Society for Experimental Biology. Away from the world of science, Peter was an accomplished violinist, an avid opera lover and keen cricketer. He was one of a small group of former King’s colleagues who used to meet every month at The Churchill Arms pub in Church Street, Kensington – until the pandemic and then on Zoom meetings, where they discussed, amongst other things, recent advances in biology. The last time they met was only a month before his death. Peter will be sadly missed by his colleagues, but not as much as by his second wife Danielle and his son Jonathan.

Thank you to Frank Cox for providing the details for Peter’s obituary.