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Biographical entry Medawar, Sir Peter Brian (1915 - 1987)

Kt 1965; OM 1981; CH 1972; CBE 1958; FRS 1949; Hon FRCS 1967; MA DSc Oxford; Hon FBA 1981.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
2 October 1987
Research scientist and Zoologist


Peter Medawar was born in Rio de Janeiro, the son of Nicholas Medawar, a Lebanese businessman. His mother, Edith Muriel Dowling, was English. He was educated at Marlborough and Magdalen College, Oxford where he achieved a first in zoology. His earliest work was associated with Guttman and Young on the rate of growth of nerve fibres but in 1947 he was appointed Professor of Zoology in Birmingham. Four years later he became Professor of Zoology at University College, London, where he continued his early work on cellular immunology and in particular to the role of lymphocytes in tissue graft rejection. His finest contribution in the understanding of graft rejection was by introducing cells from the prospective donor into the recipient in its foetal or neonatal life and thereby demonstrating the prevention of subsequent graft rejection. This outstanding work was carried out with Sir Macfarlane Burnet, for which they were rewarded with a Nobel Prize in 1960.

In 1962 he was appointed as Director of the National Institute for Medical Research at Mill Hill where his talent for research and creative mind was a tremendous benefit to many young scientists. Peter Medawar was also a gifted orator with a clear message which was so popular with his students and colleagues. He wrote essays and books which are a classic collection ranging from his Reith lecture entitled The future of man to his final major work Memoir of a thinking radish which was an account of some aspects of his life. Another popular book Advice to a young student is still an inspiring encouragement to students; whereas another study of biological ideas was published jointly with Lady Medawar and entitled The life science. They wrote together Aristotle to zoos which is a biological encyclopedia. There is no doubt that Peter Medawar was one of our most distinguished biologists whose discoveries have led to the wealth of tissue and organ transplants and given so many people a chance to have a better quality of life. It was a cruel blow that was delivered in 1969 when he sustained his first stroke and yet he was supported throughout his affliction by his devoted wife and family. He was a superb chess player, enjoyed squash and cricket, but above all he was an ardent lover of opera.

In 1937 he married fellow student Jean Shinglewood, daughter of Dr C H S Taylor, and they had two sons and two daughters. He died on 2 October 1987 after several strokes which increased the severity of his handicap but did not destroy his spirit.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 5 October 1987; The Independent 5 October 1987; Daily Telegraph October 1987].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England