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1960: Sir Peter Medawar

From his studies of skin grafting to treat soldiers with burns in the Second World War, Medawar (MRC National Institute for Medical Research) discovered ‘acquired immunological tolerance’. This is the ability of a living thing to overcome its normal tendency to reject another individual’s organs or tissue.

Using rabbits, Medawar showed that the rejection of skin grafts was an immune response. He also found that the response could be avoided if, early on in life, mice were exposed to the tissue that would later be grafted. The work, for which he won the 1960 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, gave surgeons the confidence that the problem of rejection of organs and tissue could be solved by tackling the immune response.