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Peter Medawar

Sir Peter Medawar
BornFebruary 28 1915(1915-02-28)
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
DiedOctober 2 1987 (aged 72)
London, United Kingdom
Notable prizes Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1960)

Sir Peter Brian Medawar (February 28, 1915 – October 2, 1987) was a Brazilian-born British scientist best known for his work on how the immune system rejects or accepts tissue transplants. He was co-winner of the 1960 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet.


Early years

Medawar was born on February 28, 1915, in Rio de Janeiro of a British mother and a Lebanese father.

Early research

His involvement with what became transplant research began during WWII, when he investigated possible improvements in skin grafts. It became focused 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 on the one hand and unwanted cells and foreign material on the other.

Outcome of research

Medawar was awarded his Nobel Prize in 1960 with Burnet for their work in tissue grafting which is the basis of organ transplants, and their discovery of acquired immunological tolerance. This work was used in dealing with skin grafts required after burns. 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 was professor of zoology at the University of Birmingham (1947-51) and University College London (1951-62). In 1962 he was appointed director of the National Institute for Medical Research, and became professor of experimental medicine at the Royal Institution (1977-83), and president of the Royal Postgraduate Medical School (1981-87). Medawar was a scientist of great inventiveness who was interested in many other subjects including opera, philosophy and cricket.

In addition to his accomplishments as a scientist, he also wrote on the practice and philosophy of science. His books include The Art of the Soluble, a book of essays, some later reprinted in Pluto's Republic, Advice to a Young Scientist, Aristotle to Zoos (with his wife Jean Shinglewood Taylor), The Life Science, and his last, in 1986, Memoirs of a Thinking Radish, a brief autobiography.

He was knighted in 1965 and awarded the Order of Merit in 1981. While attending the annual British Association meeting in 1969 he suffered a stroke (brain haemorrhage) whilst reading the lesson at Exeter Cathedral. It could be argued that Medawar’s failing health had repercussions for medical science as well as for relations between the scientific community and government. Prior to his failing health, Medawar was considered by many to be one of the United Kingdom’s most influential scientists, particularly in the medico-biological field.

After the impairment of his speech and movement Medawar, with his wife's help, reorganised his life and continued to write and do research though on a greatly restricted scale. However, more haemorrhages followed and in 1987 Medawar died. He is buried - as is his wife Jean (1913-2005) - at Alfriston in East Sussex. Jean Medawar's obituary can be found at

NAME Medawar, Sir Peter
DATE OF BIRTH February 28, 1915
PLACE OF BIRTH Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
DATE OF DEATH October 2, 1987
PLACE OF DEATH London, United Kingdom
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Peter_Medawar". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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