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Medawar, Sir Peter Brian

grafts moved organ rejection

[me dawah®] (1915–87) British immunologist: pioneer in study of immunological tolerance.

Born in Brazil, the son of a Lebanese–British business man, Medawar was educated in England at Marlborough (which he much disliked) and then at Oxford, studying zoology under J Z Young (1907– ) from 1932. In the 1940s he began to study skin grafts in connection with wartime burns victims, and when he moved in 1947 to Birmingham he continued this interest. He was a keen and skilful experimenter; he was aware that grafts are successful between certain types of twins and he knew of work, suggesting that an animal’s ability to produce antibodies against foreign cells (and hence rejection of a transplanted tissue) is not inherited but is developed in fetal life, and so he believed that ‘immunological tolerance’ should be achievable. Medawar’s ingenious work with mouse skin grafts supported Burnet’s idea. From this stemmed the successful human organ transplants achieved by surgeons from the 1960s, using tissue-typing to secure a partial matching between the donor organ and the patient, and also using immunosuppressive drugs to inhibit the normal immune response that would cause rejection. Medawar moved to London in 1951, and shared a Nobel Prize with Burnet in 1960. He did not allow the strokes he had in his last 18 years to much limit his work, and his seven popular books were written in this period.

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