1972: Professor Rodney Porter
Porter (MRC National Institute for Medical Research) described the chemical structure of antibodies – the body’s defence molecules – and their interaction with molecules from outside the body, called antigens. Antibodies are giant molecules in the blood, which are proteins used by the immune system to identify and neutralise foreign objects like bacteria and viruses.
Porter wanted to find out exactly how antibodies work. He separated the parts of the molecule that are responsible for the antibody’s ability to react specifically and combine with a foreign substance: the antigen to which it is specifically fitted. He also proposed that the antibody molecule is shaped like the letter Y. Each antibody recognises a specific antigen because, at the two tips of its ‘Y’, it has structures that lock on to only one type of antigen. Porter won the 1973 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work.