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Peter Medawar

Peter MedawarAKA Peter Brian Medawar

Born: 28-Feb-1915
Birthplace: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Died: 2-Oct-1987
Location of death: London, England
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Seaford Cemetery, East Sussex, England

Gender: Male
Religion: Agnostic [1]
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Biologist, Zoologist

Nationality: England
Executive summary: Acquired immunological tolerance

Military service: (skin graft research, burn unit, Glasgow Royal Infirmary, Scotland)

Brazilian-born British zoologist Peter Medawar studied under Howard Florey, and showed that cells can "learn". His most famous research was triggered by soldiers' rejection of skin grafts, and he noted that rejection rates declined when donors were related to recipients, declined further if the relationship was close, and disappeared entirely in identical twins. In a 1951 paper co-authored by biologist Rupert Billingham (1921-2002), Medawar described a series of experiments with rats which demonstrated what is now called acquired immunological tolerance that each individual's "rules" of cellular rejection are defined at an early age, and that rejection can be dramatically decreased if, before birth or while very young, individuals are injected with cells from others of their species.

His work was of fundamental importance to modern medicine, underlying modern principles of organ transplants and changing the practice of immunology from merely understanding and dealing with the mechanisms of immunity and rejection to altering these factors. Medawar won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1960, shared with Frank Macfarlane Burnet, whose related theory was confirmed by Medawar's experiments. He also studied the evolution of aging, graft-versus-host disease, and human leukocyte antigens.

He suffered a massive stroke at the age of 54 which left him unable to lecture, but he remained active academically until shortly before his death almost two decades later. His autobiography was titled Memoirs of a Thinking Radish, not as an allusion to his disability but "not to claim for myself as an author any distinction more extravagant than membership of the human race." He was a strong supporter of England's National Health Service, which he considered society's first significant step forward in more than a century, and he admired the plays of W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. His wife, activist and author Jean Medawar, was an advocate for contraceptive rights when such a stance was extremely controversial, and later served as Vice President of the Family Planning Association.


[1] Raised in the Christian Uniat Church, before becoming agnostic as an adult.

Father: Nicholas Agnatius Medawar
Mother: Edith Muriel Dowling
Wife: Jean Shinglewood Taylor (activist, b. 7-Feb-1913, m. 1937, d. 3-May-2005, two sons, two daughters)
Son: Alexander
Daughter: Caroline
Son: Charles
Daughter: Louise

    High School: Marlborough College, Wiltshire, England (1932)
    University: BA Zoology, Magdalen College, Oxford University (1935)
    University: PhD Zoology, Oxford University (1937)
    Scholar: Pathology, Oxford University (1935-38)
    Fellow: Magdalen College, Oxford University (1938-44)
    Fellow: St John's College, Oxford University (1944-46)
    Teacher: Zoology and Comparative Anatomy, St John's College, Oxford University (1944-46)
    Fellow: Magdalen College, Oxford University (1946-47)
    Professor: Mason Professor of Zoology, University of Birmingham (1947-51)
    Professor: Jodrell Professor of Zoology, University College London (1951-62)
    Administrator: The National Institute for Medical Research, London (1962-71)
    Scholar: Cancer Research, The National Institute for Medical Research, London (1971-86)
    Professor: Experimental Medicine, Royal Institution (1977-83)
    Administrator: President, Royal Postgraduate Medical School (1981-86)

    Rolleston Prize of Oxford and Cambridge 1942
    Royal Society 1949
    Nobel Prize for Medicine 1960 (with Frank Macfarlane Burnet)
    Royal Medal 1959
    Knight of the British Empire 1965
    The Transplantation Society Founding Member, 1966
    Royal Society of Edinburgh 1966
    Copley Medal 1969
    British Association for the Advancement of Science President, 1969
    Order of the Companions of Honour 1972
    Order of Merit 1981
    Faraday Prize 1987
    American Academy of Arts and Sciences Foreign Member
    American Philosophical Society Foreign Member
    Athenaeum Club (London)
    New York Academy of Sciences Foreign Member
    Royal Institution of Great Britain
    English Ancestry Maternal
    Lebanese Ancestry Paternal
    Stroke 1969
    Stroke 1980
    Stroke 1984

Author of books:
The Uniqueness of the Individual (1957, essays)
The Future of Man (1959, lectures)
The Art of the Soluble (1967, essays)
Induction and Intuition in Scientific Thought (1968, essays)
The Hope of Progress (1972, essays)
The Life of Science (1977, essays)
Advice to a Young Scientist (1979, non-fiction)
Aristotle to Zoos: A Philosophical Dictionary of Biology (1983, with Jean Medawar)
Pluto's Republic (1982, essays)
Memoirs of a Thinking Radish (1986, memoirs)
The Threat and the Glory (1990, essays; posthumous)
The strange case of the spotted mice and other classic essays on science (1996, essays; posthumous)


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