Peter Brian Medawar

Medawar, Peter Brian (1815-1987), was a British zoologist who shared the 1960 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with Sir Macfarlane Burnet of Australia for their work on the body's rejection of tissue transplants. Their research played a critical role in the development of human transplant surgery.

Medawar was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He was educated in England and studied at Marlborough College. He earned his bachelor's degree at Magdalen College, Oxford University, where he studied zoology.


During World War II (1939–1945), Medawar studied issues related to severely burned servicemen, investigating why skin grafts taken from one person wouldn't permanently graft onto the skin of another. He theorized that grafts from unrelated donors (called homografts) were usually destroyed because of an immunological response called a homograft reaction.

He also developed a sort of biological “glue”—a substance used to reunite severed nerves—which became widely used to repair skin grafts.

After the war, Medawar continued his research in the field of immunology. In 1951, Medawar was appointed Jodrell Professor of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy at University College, London. With Rupert Billingham and Leslie Brent, he made many other important discoveries. He and his colleagues expanded on Burnet's theory that donor graft rejection was caused by an immunological reaction and that tolerance can be built up. It was for that work that he won the Nobel Prize in 1960.

Medawar was director of the National Institute of Medical Research from 1962 to 1971. He was knighted in 1965 and, in 1981, admitted to the Order of Merit, the most prestigious of all royal honors.