Peter Medawar FRS (1915-1987)

Peter Medawar was one of the foremost biologists of his generation. Largely
through his work a new branch of science was created – the immunology of
transplantation. This made possible enormous advances in medicine involving
organ transplants and a profound understanding of immune rejection.
Medawar’s Nobel Prize was for research on the immunological basis of
graft rejection, which was prompted by an interest in trying to improve
the treatment of burns through skin grafting. He demonstrated that under
some experimental circumstances it was possible to tame the otherwise
hostile immune system of recipients so that grafts were tolerated rather than
rejected. The immediate cause of tissue rejection was the recipient’s white
blood cells attacking the graft. He predicted – and confirmed experimentally
– that antibodies directed at these hostile white blood cells would protect
transplanted tissue. He thus established the intellectual framework for
understanding transplant rejection, and the hunt began, around the world, for
a practical method of suppressing the rejection process.

1915 Born 28 February in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
1932 Studied zoology at Magdalen College, Oxford
1938 Elected Fellow of Magdalen College. Appointed lecturer at Oxford University
1947 Professor of Zoology, University of Birmingham
1949 Fellow of Royal Society
1951 Jodrell Professor of Zoology, University College, London
1959 Royal Medal, of the Royal Society
1960 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine
1962 Appointed Director of NIMR
1965 Knighted
1969 Royal Society Copley Medal
1971 Moved to MRC Clinical Research Centre
1981 Order of Merit
1987 Died 2 October

In his 1979 book, Advice to a Young Scientist, Medawar says he set out “to write the kind of book I myself
should have liked to have read when I began research.” Taking the part of a benevolent counselor, he delivers wry
observations on how to choose a research topic, how to get along with collaborators, how to present a scientific
paper, the scientific process and advice on dealing with older scientists and administrators.
Peter Medawar
Peter Medawar

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