Professor Edward Boyse

Researcher into the functions of T-cells in the immune system

Wednesday 29 August 2007 00:00 BST

Edward Arthur Boyse, immunologist: born Worthing, Sussex 11 August 1923; Member, Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research, New York 1967-89; Professor of Biology, Cornell University 1969-89; FRS 1977; Distinguished Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, Arizona University 1989-94 (Emeritus); married 1951 Jeanette Grimwood (one son, one daughter, and one son deceased; marriage dissolved 1987), 1987 Judith Bard; died Tucson, Arizona 14 July 2007.

Edward Boyse was an immunologist who uncovered some important basics of his science. In 1975 he published the finding that there were functionally different subclasses of T-cells in the immune system – helper and killer T-cells. In 1989 he and colleagues first suggested that umbilical cord blood was a potential source of blood stem cells that could be used in transplantation. He examined 100 cord blood samples, before and after freezing, to confirm this. Shortly afterwards, with US and French collaborators, he conducted the first successful cord blood transplant on a French child with a potentially fatal condition, Fanconi's anaemia. About 10,000 children have now had this life-saving procedure.

His other major line of research was in the genetics of body odours, which he showed were determined by the genes of the immune system. He showed that mice can tell the difference in scent between relatives and strangers, and prefer to mate with partners that are immunogenetically (and odorifically) unrelated. It is postulated that humans have a similar instinct.

Boyse was born in Worthing, Sussex in 1923, the son of a professional church organist. He was educated at a private junior school, run by two ladies who kept a pair of crossed assegais over the fireplace, and at Worthing Grammar School. He left school early, at 17, to join the RAF during the Second World War.

He returned to civilian life in 1946, finished his Matriculation and entered St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical School, qualifying in 1952. After a five-year series of hospital jobs, during which he got his MD, he moved in 1957 to a three-year research appointment at Guy's Hospital with Peter Gorer, who had discovered the major histocompatibility complex H-2 in mice. This is the equivalent of the HLA immune recognition system in humans and, among other things, the basis of transplant rejection.

In 1960 he joined the "brain drain" to New York University medical school's pathology department, and seven years later, to the Sloan-Kettering cancer research institute in New York where he identified and conducted seminal work on the immunogenetics of the cell surface markers CD4 and CD8, originally named the Ly system.

Boyse spent 22 years at Sloan-Kettering, working with some of their great scientists, including Lewis Thomas. For 20 of these years he was also Professor of Biology at Cornell University medical school, which was across the road from Sloan-Kettering. He was then recruited to Arizona University in Tucson, as Distinguished Professor of Microbiology and Immunology. He officially retired in 1994, but continued working. His last paper, in 2002, was on the way that mice with mammary tumour had a specific change of body odour.

Ted Boyse's work on the types and functions of T-cells underpins a huge amount of modern immunology. He published more than 400 scientific papers and received many honours and awards.

Boyse had a huge sense of fun. He was passionate about his work and a perfectionist in all he did. He had a spell of making and restoring furniture, and kept fit by running, digging his garden and planting trees. He enjoyed the company of aviators, and parachuting.

Caroline Richmond

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