James Gowans
Gowans: always helpful to junior scientists Credit: Lucy Neal

Sir James Gowans, who has died aged 95, was a pioneer of immunology whose early research demonstrated that the small lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, play a central part in the body’s immune system; from 1977 he served for 10 years as secretary of the Medical Research Council.

Gowans began his research in the 1950s, at the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology, Oxford, under Howard (later Lord) Florey. It was Florey who suggested that he should work on small lymphocytes with a view to discovering what caused these cells, whose function was unknown at the time, to have such a high turnover in the blood.

三级成人视频The presence of lymphocytes in inflammatory reactions, in bacterial diseases such as tuberculosis and in grafts undergoing rejection, had been widely documented, but because the small lymphocyte had been regarded as an end cell with a very short lifespan, its role was not understood.

三级成人视频Gowans’s vital contribution was to show that some of the small lymphocytes, taken from the thoracic ducts of rats, enjoyed a surprising longevity – up to 15 years – and had the capacity to leave the blood, cross tissues, and circulate via the lymph nodes back to the blood, a process known as lymphocyte recirculation.

三级成人视频To determine the purpose of these cells he infected a group of rats with a tetanus antigen, stimulating them to build up an immunity against the disease. He then transplanted some of their lymphocytes to rats in an unexposed group.

三级成人视频When these rats were then introduced to the tetanus antigen, they responded with an outpouring of antibodies, as if they had previously been immunised to a disease they had never had. Gowans concluded that lymphocytes are effective stores for the body’s memory of antigens that have attacked it.

James Learmonth Gowans was born in Sheffield on May 7 1924. His father John was a technician in a hospital pathology laboratory; his mother was Selma, née Ljung. An academic high-flyer from an early age, he attended Whitgift Middle School in Croydon, and then King’s College Hospital, where he qualified in Medicine in 1947. While still a student he assisted at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp as a volunteer.

三级成人视频In 1948 he took a First in Physiology at Lincoln College, Oxford. He remained at Oxford to take a doctorate at the William Dunn School of Pathology under Howard Florey, investigating to what extent an inflammatory response is necessary for an in vivo cure of infectious disease when antibiotics are given.

After a year spent as an MRC exchange scholar at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, where he developed his interest in infection and immunity, Gowans returned to the Dunn School to begin his research on lymphocytes, becoming a research fellow at Exeter College, Oxford.

Gowans’s work on lymphocytes was recognised by the conferment of many honours. He was elected to the Henry Dale Professorship of the Royal Society in 1962 and to a fellowship of the Society the following year.

At around the same time the MRC established a Cellular Immunology Research Unit in the Dunn School under the Gowans’s honorary direction, and this led to the construction of an additional building, the Leslie Martin building.

三级成人视频Gowans remained honorary director until 1977, when he became secretary of the MRC. His move away from laboratory research was greeted with some dismay by his colleagues in the research community, and it proved to be a difficult job. The ensuing 10 years were financially trying for the Council, and Gowans acknowledged the difficulties of trying to respond to the constant pressures on a small budget.

Among other things he announced the establishment of a voluntary body of scientists and lay people to oversee British research into in vitro fertilisation, as part of the MRC’s response to the Warnock Report on human fertilisation and embryology.

三级成人视频He also oversaw the council’s response during the early years of the Aids crisis, and in 1987 he announced that the council had applied for extra funds of up to £10 million a year for a research programme aimed at developing antiviral drugs and a vaccine.

After leaving the MRC in 1987 he was appointed by the World Health Organisation as chairman of a committee of researchers established to spearhead a worldwide scientific assault on HIV and Aids.

From 1989 he was secretary general of the Human Frontier Science Programme in Strasbourg, an ambitious international research project centring on basic biology. Gowans served as vice president of the Royal Society from 1973 to 1976. He was also scientific adviser to the Spinal Muscular Atrophy Trust.

Among other honours, Gowans was awarded a share of the 1980 Wolf Foundation Prize in Medicine (alongside César Milstein and Leo Sachs) for his contributions to knowledge of the function and dysfunction of the body cells through his studies on the immunological role of the lymphocytes. He was knighted in 1982.

Although Gowans could seem a rather forbidding figure, he was always helpful and courteous to the junior scientists with whom he worked. His Who’s Who entry listed no interests outside his work, though he admitted elsewhere to enjoying gardening.

三级成人视频In 1956 James Gowans married Moyra Leatham, with whom he had two daughters and a son.

Sir James Gowans, born May 7 1924, died April 1 2020