Obituary: Dr James Howard

JAMES HOWARD was a gentleman in the increasingly competitive world of science. He had a broad vision and passion for fine art and music and crossed the line between academia and industry. He gained international recognition for his contribution to the study of immunology, especially for his work on cellular immunological responses to grafts and on the mechanisms which bring about tolerance to them. In 1984, this contribution was recognised by his election as Fellow of the Royal Society.

His later work on the host immune mechanisms against the protozoan parasitic disease leishmaniasis inspired a generation of immuno-parasitologists, significantly contributing to and sustaining the pre-eminent position of the United Kingdom in the field of parasitology. He served in advisory roles for such bodies as the World Health Organisation, the Medical Research Council, the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, and Direction Generale de la Recherche Scientifique et Technique, France, and also acted on the editorial boards of various journals of immunology.

The only child of Joseph and Kathleen Howard, James Howard was born in New Malden, Surrey, in 1927. From an early age he displayed a thirst for knowledge, and was fortunate to attend the enlightened Raynes Park Grammar School, which was staffed by a wartime infusion of distinguished teachers; the broadcasters Robert Robinson and Paul Vaughan were among his contemporaries. It was here that his interest in science and deep love of music were first aroused and nurtured.

Howard went on to study medicine at the Middlesex Hospital in London, after which he chose to follow a laboratory rather than a clinical career. In 1949, he met Opal Echalaz, an art student at Camberwell, whom he married in 1951, just before starting army service in Wiltshire. This was to mark the beginning of a long and happy marriage, during which she continued to paint and exhibit her paintings widely.

After completing National Service with the rank of major, Howard took up a research fellowship at the Wright-Fleming Institute, St Mary's Hospital, London, where he completed his PhD in 1957. The following year, he was appointed to a lectureship in the Department of Surgical Science at Edinburgh University, where he became Reader in Zoology. During this period he was offered a six-month fellowship by the late Professor Lewis Thomas in New York University, and this started his love of the United States, where he was to make regular visits.

In 1969, Howard returned south to head the Department of Immunobiology at the Wellcome Research Laboratories in Beckenham, Kent, where he subsequently became Director of Biomedical Research. Here, effectively and yet unobtrusively, he built up a centre of excellence in immunology and parasitology, recruiting young talents from across the world. At one stage, eight languages were spoken in his department; English was occasionally heard.

This was to be Howard's most productive period. He showed with great precision and clarity that immunological tolerance - the silencing of immune reactions to foreign materials in the body - could be brought about not only by protein antigens but also by carbohydrates such as dextrans. This suggested that carbohydrates might be used to induce acceptance of foreign organ grafts. Conversely the work also suggested that bacteria which carry substantial amounts of carbohydrate antigens on their surface might also induce immunological tolerance in such a way that the body would no longer be able to mount an immunological attack against the bacteria. Therefore carbohydrates may contribute to the successful survival and multiplication of bacteria and thus enhance their virulence.

His work on the immune response to leishmaniasis was also carried out at the Wellcome Reseach Laboratories. The disease is caused by the protozoan parasite Leishmania major, named after Lt-Gen Sir William Boog Leishman who discovered it while serving in the Army in India at the turn of the century. Howard and colleagues were the first to show that, depending on the host's genetic constitution, the parasite can either induce a protective immune response, or a disease-promoting response. Furthermore, they showed that these responses were mediated by different subsets of small white blood cells called T lymphocytes. This work generated a profound interest in leishmaniasis among immunologists, making it immunologically one of the best- understood infectious diseases.

Howard left the Wellcome Research Laboratories in 1985 to join the Wellcome Trust in London as Programme Director for infectious and tropical diseases until his retirement in 1990. His broad knowledge of science and scientists contributed significantly to the development of the trust, where his characteristic courtesy, attention to detail and intellectual integrity were much valued.

James Howard was a man with great zest for life, with wide and varied interests. His love of classical music, fine wine and the culinary art was well known. He took his laboratory skills into the kitchen. Invitations to his dinner parties were much sought after. In dress, he went against the casual trend of his fellow scientists and was seldom seen without a tie. He loved to relate amusing anecdotes and appreciated good humour. His sense of humour permeated his work, which will live long after him.

James Griffiths Howard, biomedical scientist: born New Malden, Surrey 25 September 1927; Research Fellow, Wright-Fleming Institute, St Mary's Hospital, London 1955-58; Lecturer, Senior Lecturer and Reader, Department of Surgical Science, Edinburgh University 1958-66, Reader and Head of Immunobiology Section, Department of Zoology 1966-69; Head, Experimental Immunobiology Department, Wellcome Research Laboratories 1969-74, Head, Experimental Biology Division 1974-83, Director, Biomedical Research 1984- 85; FRS 1984; Programme Director, Wellcome Trust, 1986-90; married 1951 Opal St Clair (nee Echalaz; two daughters, and one son deceased); died Sarnesfield, Herefordshire 6 October 1998.

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test