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Famous immunologists

As part of our anniversary celebrations, the BSI is celebrating the contributions made to our discipline by outstanding immunologists throughout our 60 year history.  Here we feature some of the key characters who led the way in ensuring that immunology is the broad reaching, innovative and exciting discipline that we know today. You can find more information on each of these people below, plus some highlights of their research that was published in BSI journals.  

Brigitte ‘Ita’ Askonas FMedSci FRS   

1923 – 2013
  • Referred to by many as the ‘Mother Figure’ or the ‘Grand Dame of Immunology’
  • Made major contributions to our understanding of the cellular and molecular basis of lymphocyte responses to proteins, helping to establish many of the basic mechanisms behind the immune response to infection
  • Immense legacy giving her time generously to many in immunology, and having trained many students who are now eminent scientists throughout the world
Every so often in your life you meet someone who changes everything you do from that moment on. To so many, Ita Askonas was just such an individual.”*
Selected publications from BSI journals 
Askonas, B. A., McMichael, A. J. & Roux, M. E. Clonal dominance and the preservation of clonal memory cells mediated by antigen-antibody. Immunology 31, 541–51 (1976). Read full article here.
Kemshead, J. T. & Askonas, B. A. Thymus dependence of the IgG response: role of T cells is restricted to non-specific rather than antigen-specific factors. Immunology 37, 603–8 (1979). Read full article here. 
Cannon, M. J., Stott, E. J., Taylor, G. & Askonas, B. A. Clearance of persistent respiratory syncytial virus infections in immunodeficient mice following transfer of primed T cells,  Immunology 62, 133–8 (1987). Read full article here. 
Mayor-Withey, K. S., Clayton, C. E., Roelants, G. E. & Askonas, B. A. Trypanosomiasis leads to extensive proliferation of B, T and null cells in spleen and bone marrow. Clin. Exp. Immunol. 34, 359–63 (1978). Read full article here. 
McMichael, A. J., Gotch, F., Cullen, P., Askonas, B. & Webster, R. G. The human cytotoxic T cell response to influenza A vaccination. Clin. Exp. Immunol. 43, 276–84 (1981). Read full article here. 
*Leszak Borysiewicz 2014 Ita Askonas: sixty years of immunology.  Photo credit: Anne-Katrin Purkiss, Wellcome Images   

Robert Royston Amos (Robin) Coombs FRS   

1921 – 2006 
  • Founding father of clinical immunology, developing critical diagnostic tests, writing definite textbooks and mentoring a diverse array of immunologists from around the world
  • Invented the antiglobulin test that allows detection of anti-rhesus antibodies – the Coombs test – a critical test in haemotology for successful blood transfusion
  • Co-founder of the British Society for Immunology, fulfilling the role of General Secretary for the first 10 years
   Coombs' work “changed the way people thought about antibody actions and about immunopathological mechanisms.”*
Selected publications from BSI journals
Coombs, R. R., Daniel, M. R., Gurner, B. W. & Kelus, A. Recognition of the species of origin of cells in culture by mixed agglutination. I. Use of antisera to red cells. Immunology  (1961). Read full article here.
Kerr, W. R., Payne, D. J., Robertson, L. & Coombs, R. R. Immunoglobulin class of Brucella antibodies in human sera. Immunology 13, 223–5 (1967). Read full article here.
Coombs, R. R., Edebo, L., Feinstein, A. & Gurner, B. W. The class of antibodies sensitizing bacteria measured by mixed reverse passive antiglobulin haemagglutination (MRPAH). Immunology 34, 1037–44 (1978). Read full article here.
Anderson, K. J., McLaughlan, P., Devey, M. E. & Coombs, R. R. Anaphylactic sensitivity of guinea-pigs drinking different preparations of cows’ milk and infant formulae. Clin. Exp. Immunol. 35, 454–61 (1979). Read full article here.
Kieffer, M., Frazier, P. J., Daniels, N. W. & Coombs, R. R. Wheat gliadin fractions and other cereal antigens reactive with antibodies in the sera of coeliac patients. Clin. Exp. Immunol. 50, 651–60 (1982). Read full article here.
*Peter Lachmann, quoted in The Lancet 367, 1234. Photo credit: ©Godfrey Argent Studios.      

Deborah Doniach MD FRCP  

1912 – 2004
  • An outstanding clinical immunologist and pioneer in the field of autoimmune disease
  • Determined new concepts that provided the stimulus for our understanding of autoimmune disease, through her work on thyroid disorders 
  • A true scholar, her infectious enthusiasm for the discipline inspired a generation of clinical immunologists
“She was a woman of charisma and creativity who inspired patients, academic collaborators, and a generation of biomedical scientists lucky enough to do research in her laboratory.”*
Selected publications from BSI journals
Roitt, I. M., Torrigiani, G. & Doniach, D. Immunochemical studies on the thyroglobulin autoantibody system in human thyroiditis. Immunology 15, 681–96 (1968). Read full article here. 
Rizzetto, M., Swana, G. & Doniach, D. Microsomal antibodies in active chronic hepatitis and other disorders. Clin. Exp. Immunol. 15, 331–44 (1973). Read full article here.
Sotsiou, F., Bottazzo, G. F. & Doniach, D. Immunofluorescence studies on autoantibodies to steroid-producing cells, and to germline cells in endocrine disease and infertility. Clin. Exp. Immunol. 39, 97–111 (1980). Read full article here.
Khoury, E. L., Hammond, L., Bottazzo, G. F. & Doniach, D. Surface-reactive antibodies to human adrenal cells in Addison’s disease. Clin. Exp. Immunol. 45, 48–55 (1981). Read full article here.
*Pearce Wright 2004 The Lancet 363, 995. Photo credit: Tabitha Doniach

John H. Humphrey CBE FRS FRCP

1915 – 1987
  • A pioneer in cellular immunology who exerted a powerful and respected influence on immunology in the UK and internationally
  • Best known for his classical work on the fate of antigen in tolerance and in antibody formation, championing the importance of quantitation and the use of radioactive and fluorescent labels for determining antigen distribution
  • Co-founder of the British Society for Immunology; second President of the International Union of Immunological Societies
“He was a man totally lacking in cynicism, who was generous in the extreme with his time, ideas, reagents and enthusiasm. To him, science was fun and not a sterile quest for academic knowledge.”*
Selected publications from BSI journals   
Humphrey, J. H. & Mota, I. The mechanism of anaphylaxis: specificity of antigen-induced mast cell damage in anaphylaxis in the guinea pig. Immunology 2, 31–43 (1959). Read full article here. 
Humphrey, J. H., Askonas, B. A., Auzins, I., Schechter, I. & Sela, M. The localization of antigen in lymph nodes and its relation to specific antibody-producing cells. II.  Comparison of iodine-125 and tritium labels. Immunology 13, 71–86 (1967). Read full article here. 
Klaus, G. G. & Humphrey, J. H. The generation of memory cells. I. The role of C3 in the generation of B memory cells. Immunology 33, 31–40 (1977). Read full article here.
Spry, C. J., Pflug, A. J., Janossy, G. & Humphrey, J. H. Large mononuclear (veiled) cells like ‘Ia-like’ membrane antigens in human afferent lympn. Clin. Exp. Immunol. 39, 750–5 (1980). Read full article here. 
* Brigitte Askonas & Gerry Klaus 2008. Immunology Today 9, 100–101.  Photo credit: MRC National Institute for Medical Research

Sir Peter Medawar OM CBE FRS 

1915 – 1987
  • Regarded as the father of transplantation and “foremost biologist of his generation”.*
  • Won the Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology in 1960 with Frank Macfarlane Burnett for the discovery of acquired immunological tolerance
  • Established himself as an articulate and witty popular science writer and communicator, authoring over a dozen books on science and the philosophy of science.
“If he [Medawar] had designed the world, it would be a better place.”**
Selected publications from BSI journals
Medawar, P. B. & Woodruff, M. F. The induction of tolerance by skin homografts on newborn rats. Immunology 1, 27–35 (1958). Read full article here. 
Hildeman, W. H. & Medawar, P. B. Relationship between skin transplantation immunity and the formation of humoral isoantibodies in mice. Immunology 2, 44–52 (1959). Read full article here. 
Medawar, P. B. & Hunt, R. Anti-cancer action of retinoids. Immunology 42, 349–53 (1981). Read full article here. 
*Av Mitchison, quoted in American Association of Immunologists profile on Peter Medawar. **C.P.Snow 1988 BBC Horizon; quoted by D Davis 2013 The Compatibility Gene London: Allen Lane 

César Milstein CH FRS

1927 – 2002
  • Groundbreaking research which led to the development of monoclonal antibodies, now a key tool used basic science research and for diagnostic and clinical therapies, and one of the driving forces behind the creation of the biotechnology industry
  • Won the Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology in 1984 with Niels K. Jerne and Georges Kohler for developing a test-tube method to produce monoclonal antibodies       
  • Born in Argentina, he made Britain his home and acted as a guide and inspiration to many in the antibody field as well as devoting himself to assisting science and scientists in less developed countries
“No other MRC scientist has made such an outstanding contribution to Britain's science, health and wealth creation.”*
Selected publications from BSI journals
Milstein, C. P. & Deverson, E. V. J segment in human delta chains. Immunology 40, 657–64 (1980). Read full article here.
Galfrè, G. & Milstein, C. Chemical typing of human kappa light chain subgroups expressed by human hybrid myelomas. Immunology 45, 125–8 (1982). Read full article here.
Takei, F., Secher, D. S., Milstein, C. & Springer, T. Use of a monoclonal antibody specifically non-reactive with T cells to delineate lymphocyte subpopulations. Immunology 42, 371–8 (1981). Read full article here.
*Sir George Radda, quotes in The Guardian, 27 March 2002.  Photo credit: MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology

Dame Bridget Ogilvie AC, DBE, FMedSci, FRS

  • An immunologist and parasitologist by training, who has dedicated her career to building and supporting the research careers of others through pioneering roles in public engagement and science leadership
  • Former Director of the Wellcome Trust, who oversaw the conversion of the organisation to the world-leading research funder it is today and led the establishment of the Sanger Institute, a world-leading centre for genetics and genomics research
  • Campaigner for promoting public understanding of and engagement with science through her work with Sense About Science
“There are many ways of being a scientist and I’ve had such a wonderful, broad, interesting experience through the many things I’ve got involved with … I’ve taken rather big risks, but boy has it paid off.”*
Selected publications from BSI journals        
Dineen, J. K., Ogilvie, B. M. & Kelly, J. D. Expulsion of Nippostrongylus brasiliensis from the intestine of rats. Collaboration between humoral and cellular components of the immune response. Immunology 24, 467–75 (1973). Read full article here.
Corsini, A. C., Clayton, C., Askonas, B. A. & Ogilvie, B. M. Suppressor cells and loss of B-cell potential in mice infected with Trypanosoma brucei. Clin. Exp. Immunol. 29, 122–31 (1977). Read full article here.
Askonas, B. A., Corsini, A. C., Clayton, C. E. & Ogilvie, B. M. Functional depletion of T- and B-memory cells and other lymphoid cell subpopulations-during trypanosomiasis. Immunology 36, 313–21 (1979). Read full article here.
Selkirk, M. E., Wilkins, S. R., Ogilvie, B. M. & Platts-Mills, T. A. In vitro induction of human helper T cell activity by Trypanosoma brucei. Clin. Exp. Immunol. 52, 512–8 (1983). Read full article here.
*Bridget Ogilvie, quoted in NDM video.  Photo credit: Will Strange, British Society for Immunology

Delphine Parrott FRSE   

1928 - 2016
  • Scientist who pioneered research into T-cell immunology, which has led to many clinical advances including organ transplantation
  • Made seminal contributions in identifying the role of the thymus in health and disease and how the movement of blood cells are involved in inflammation reactions
  • First female General Secretary of the British Society for Immunology from 1972–73 and the first female professor in 400-year history of University of Glasgow
“Delphine was a very thoughtful scientist; as well as teaching us the scientific method, she gave us a sense of fun and appreciation of the excitement of discovery.”*
Selected publications from BSI journals   
Parrott, D. M. The effect of site of implantation on host reaction. Immunology 3, 244–53 (1960). Read full article here.
Humphrey, J. H., Parrott, D. M. & East, J. Studied on globulin and antibody production in mice thymectomized at birth. Immunology 7, 419–39 (1964). Read full article here.
Parrott, D. M. & Ferguson, A. Selective migration of lymphocytes within the mouse small intestine. Immunology 26, 571–88 (1974). Read full article here.
East, J., De Sousa, M. A., Parrott, D. M. & Jaquet, H. Consequences of neonatal thymectomy in New Zealand black mice. Clin. Exp. Immunol. 2, 203–15 (1967). Read full article here. 
Parrott, D. M. & De Sousa, M. Thymus-dependent and thymus-independent populations: origin, migratory patterns and lifespan. Clin. Exp. Immunol. 8, 663–84 (1971). Read full article here.    
Parrott, D. M., Tilney, N. L. & Sless, F. The different migratory characteristics of lymphocyte populations from a whole spleen transplant. Clin. Exp. Immunol. 19, 459–74 (1975). Read full article here.
Davies, M. D. & Parrott, D. M. The early appearance of specific cytotoxic T cells in murine gut mucosa. Clin. Exp. Immunol. 42, 273–9 (1980). Read full article here.
*Marlene Rose & Tom MacDonald The Guardian 10 March 2016. Photo credit: British Society for Immunology

Rodney Robert Porter CH, FRS

1917 – 1985  
  • Provided much of the groundwork for the field of molecular immunology, ushering in a new era of research on antibodies
  • Won the Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology in 1972 with Gerald Edelman for his work on determining the chemical structure of antibodies
  • Later research focused on both the role of antibodies as cell surface receptors and the complement system
"…one of the most outstanding biochemists in this country and in the world. I think his work probably changed the nature of the way we can think of combating diseases in terms of immunisation and vaccination."*
Selected publications from BSI journals
Chan, P. C. & Porter, R. R. In vitro assay of reaginic antibodies to horse serum albumin. Immunology 13, 633–40 (1967). Read full article here.
*George Radda, quoted in Washington Post, 8 September 1985. Photo credit: MRC National Institute for Medical Research