Sir Peter Brian Medawar


Sir Peter Brian Medawar
(1915 - 1987)



British zoologist who received (with Sir Macfarlane Burnet) the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1960 for the discovery of acquired immunological tolerance when he found (1953) that adult animals injected with foreign cells early in life accept skin grafts from the original cell donor.
Medawar was born in Brazil, to which his parents had been transferred on business. He attended Magdalen College, Oxford, from which he received a degree in zoology. His involvement with transplant research began in earnest in 1949, when Burnet advanced the hypothesis that during embryonic life and immediately after birth, cells gradually acquire the ability to distinguish between their own tissue substances and unwanted cells and foreign material. Medawar lent support to this theory when he found that fraternal cattle twins accept skin grafts from each other, indicating that certain substances known as antigens "leak" from the yolk sac of each embryo twin into the sac of the other. In a series of experiments on mice, he produced evidence indicating that each animal cell contains certain genetically determined antigens important to the immunity process, because the recipient injected as an embryo with the donor's cells will accept tissue from all parts of the donor's body and from the donor's twin.

Medawar was professor of zoology at the universities of Birmingham (1947-51) and London (1951-62), director of the National Institute for Medical Research, London (1962-71), professor of experimental medicine at the Royal Institution (1977-83), and president of the Royal Postgraduate Medical School (1981-87). He was knighted in 1965 and awarded the Order of Merit in 1981. Medawar's work resulted in a shift of emphasis in the science of immunology from one that attempts to deal with the fully developed immunity mechanism to one that attempts to alter the immunity mechanism itself, as in the attempt to suppress the body's rejection of organ transplants.

Medawar's works include The Uniqueness of the Individual (1957), The Future of Man (1960), The Art of the Soluble (1967), The Hope of Progress (1972), Life Science (1977), Pluto's Republic (1982), and his autobiography, Memoir of a Thinking Radish (1986).

 


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