In 2017, as part of the '75 Years of Penicillin in People' project funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Bodleian Libraries commissioned a series of oral history interviews with scientists, administrators, and technicians who work, or formerly worked, at the University of Oxford's Sir William Dunn School of Pathology. The interviews were conducted by Georgina Ferry.
Georgina Ferry interviews Siamon Gordon. Siamon Gordon FRS is Professor Emeritus of Cellular Pathology in the Dunn School. He was born the son of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants in an Afrikaans-speaking village in South Africa. Having excelled at school he qualified in medicine at the University of Cape Town before taking post-doctoral research posts in London (at St Mary’s Hospital) and Rockefeller University. While in New York he heard a lecture by Henry Harris on his then new technique of cell fusion. He transferred to Cornell University Medical School and did a PhD, first working with cell fusion and later focusing specifically on macrophages. He admits to being ‘slightly obsessed’ with macrophages, which he has worked on ever since. After further post-doctoral work, Gordon successfully applied for a Readership in Cellular Pathology at the Dunn School, arriving in 1976. He remained there for the rest of his career, continuing his work with macrophages. He has encouraged many international young scientists to work in his lab, especially from South Africa. He initiated an AIDS awareness campaign in South Africa, distributing an illustrated book entitled Staying Alive: Fighting HIV/AIDS (later You, Me and HIV). Since retirement he has worked on the history of
Georgina Ferry interviews Neil Barclay. Neil Barclay is Emeritus Professor of Chemical Pathology in the Dunn School. He arrived in Oxford as an undergraduate in 1969 to study Biochemistry, and undertook a DPhil in the same department supervised by Alan Williams. After a post-doctoral position in Sweden, he returned to Oxford to work on monoclonal antibodies with Williams, who had just been appointed head of the MRC Cellular Immunology Unit within the Dunn School. Barclay pioneered the sequencing of proteins on the surface of cells of the immune system that had been isolated through the use of monoclonal antibodies. In 2010 he succeeded George Brownlee as EP Abraham Professor of Chemical Pathology. He set up the CIU Trust to manage royalties from sales of monoclonal antibodies generated within the Cellular Immunology Unit, and through this has partially endowed the Barclay Williams Chair in Molecular Immunology. He is also Chair of the EPA Cephalosporin Fund, and has founded a company, Everest Biotech, that is based in Nepal and uses goats to generate antibodies against human proteins for research.
Georgina Ferry interviews George Brownlee. George Brownlee FRS is Emeritus Professor of Chemical Pathology in the Dunn School. He obtained his PhD at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, working with the Nobel prizewinner Fred Sanger on the sequencing of small RNAs. He continued to work at the LMB as an independent scientist, on messenger RNA and the RNA genome of the influenza virus. In 1978 he was invited by Henry Harris to become the inaugural Professor of Chemical Pathology at the Dunn School, where he introduced molecular biological techniques to the department and developed faster methods of sequencing RNA. He also bought the first computer in the department in order to store and analyse nucleic acid sequences. Brownlee continued to work on the influenza virus, work that was critical to developing some influenza vaccines, and also cloned human Factor IX, which is deficient in some forms of haemophilia. With the royalties from these discoveries he has partly endowed the Brownlee Abraham Chair of Molecular Biology in the Dunn School, and he is also a past Chair of the EPA Cephalosporin Fund.
Georgina Ferry interviews Herman Waldmann. Herman Waldmann FRS is Emeritus Professor of Pathology, and was head of the Dunn School from 1994-2013. He read medicine at Cambridge and qualified as a doctor in London before returning to Cambridge to do a PhD in the Department of Pathology. In 1978 he joined César Milstein at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology to learn about monoclonal antibodies. Thereafter he pioneered the development of monoclonals as therapeutic agents, particularly Campath-1 (Alemtuzumab, now used to treat conditions including chronic lymphocytic leukaemia and multiple sclerosis). In 1990 he set up a facility in Cambridge to make these agents (with Geoff Hale), but on his appointment as head of the Dunn School, he moved the Therapeutic Antibody Centre to Oxford. His headship saw a massive development on the Dunn School site, with the building of a new animal house, the Medical Sciences Teaching Centre, the EP Abraham Research Building and the Oxford Molecular Pathology Institute (OMPI). The number of research groups also grew rapidly, and Waldmann's introduction of a central café has ensured that staff and students have a place to interact. Following his retirement he has continued to lead a research group working on mechanisms of immunological tolerance.
Georgina Ferry interviews Pete Stroud. Pete Stroud is Mechanical Facilities Manager at the Dunn School, where he runs the maintenance and construction workshop. He has literally worked at the department ‘man and boy’, as his father ran the workshop before him, and as a teenager he used to help out in the holidays; since coming to work at the department he has lived on the site, in the flat formerly occupied by Howard Florey’s animal technician Jim Kent. Having originally intended to become an automotive engineer at the Cowley Works, Stroud found that he enjoyed the variety of work in the Dunn School workshops, and joined his father there as soon as he finished school. He pursued a succession of technical qualifications on day release, while designing and building equipment for scientific analysis, such as electrophoresis tanks and radiation screens. Stroud has seen demands on the workshop change as more equipment became available off the shelf, and computers became central to the control of many laboratory processes. But while maintenance has become a significant part of the work, innovative experiments still require some equipment to be designed and built on site.
Georgina Ferry interviews Eric Sidebottom. Eric Sidebottom has been associated with the Dunn School for more than 50 years, as medical student, lecturer, and recently, official historian. Sidebottom came to Oxford to read medicine at a time when two Nobel prizewinners, Howard Florey and Hans Krebs, were still lecturing to undergraduates. He completed his medical training at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London and came to the Dunn School as one of Henry Harris’s first DPhil students in 1966. Sidebottom became interested in cancer, and used Harris's cell fusion technique to explore the ability of cancer cells to spread throughout the body, or metastasise. Following the death of John French, Harris appointed him to organise all the teaching in the department, which led him to administrative roles including chairing the board of the Faculty of Medicine. In the late 1980s Sidebottom moved to the Imperial Cancer Research Fund as Assistant Director of Clinical Research. Returning to the Dunn School after five years, he has since focused on the history of Oxford medicine, publishing Oxford Medicine: A Walk Through Nine Centuries, and Penicillin and the Legacy of Norman Heatley (with David Cranston).