Rodney R. Porter; British Nobel Prize Winner

From Times Wire Services

Rodney Robert Porter, a biochemist who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1972, has been killed in a four-car crash south of London, police reported.

They said Porter, 67, died Sept. 6 in the arms of his wife, Julia, in the wreckage of their car on a highway at Beacon Hill south of Guildford.

Julia Porter was not seriously injured, but four other people were badly hurt.

Colleagues said Porter had been due to retire in three weeks as Whitley professor of biochemistry at Oxford University and was going to France for a vacation when he was killed.

With Gerald Maurice Edelman of New York’s Rockefeller University, Porter won the Nobel Prize for discoveries of the chemical structure of antibodies, blood proteins that play a major role in building defenses against infection.


Edelman and Porter never worked together but, as Porter said when they shared the $101,000 prize, “our work has been complementary.”

Called Outstanding

George Radda, a colleague in Oxford’s biochemistry laboratory, described Porter as “one of the most outstanding biochemists in this country and in the world. . . . I think his work probably changed the nature of the way we can think of combating diseases in terms of immunization and vaccination.”

Educated at Cambridge and Liverpool universities, Porter went to Oxford in 1967 from London University, where he was professor of immunology at St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School. He was on the staff of the National Institute for Medical Research from 1949 to 1960, when he moved to St. Mary’s.

Porter spent most of his career researching the way the body builds its defenses against disease.

Much of his most significant work was done at St. Mary’s, where he used the enzyme papain, obtained from the tropical papaw fruit, to split the antibody molecules and thus assist in identification of their structure.

Papain is widely used as a meat tenderizer because of its ability to split large molecules.

Porter said when he received the Nobel Prize: “Immunology is a science which has now become largely important because it is the major thing concerned with resistance to diseases. It is also the main thing involved in attempting to graft tissues--you know, kidneys, the heart and so on.”

Porter was named a Companion of Honor by Queen Elizabeth II in this year’s birthday honors list.

In addition to his wife, Porter is survived by five children.