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Experimenting on mice and working with Peter Gorer


Staying on at Oxford and making cages for mice
Avrion Mitchison Scientist
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I was given a little award which was actually enough to live on, which at the time, being- having all these left wing principles- I remember I didn't take the money. I said I could support myself. And, then I said to the Oxford authorities, and of course I want to work with Peter Medawar, look at all this wonderful work he's doing and what a wonderful character he is. And, of course, they were other Dons, they weren't Peter Medawar, so they had to listen to all this guff, and they said, well, we've got somebody doing, sort of, something like that who was- what was his name? In Florey's department, Mandelsteim? But it was actually very interesting work on priming for cancer. If you- if you gave mice a chemical carcinogen there are molecules which you could give before, or after, the treatment with the carcinogen which would accentuate the development of cancer. And they said, well, why don't you work on that. And I burst into tears, I remember doing that, when confronted by whoever it was, and actually it was a very nice biochemist. He said, no, no, and then they said, oh, alright if that's what you do, you can come and be a student here. And that, of course, was not a great- that was a very good idea as far as working with Peter was concerned. It wasn't quite such a good idea in other ways, because the Pathology Department, where they suggested I would work in, had been built by Florey and by his predecessors, into a great centre of medical research, and Jim Gowans was streets ahead of me in, I think- I'm not sure about conceptually, but in- certainly in the technology which-because it was all there. He could just eat into. Was he a contemporary? Yes. I got to know him after, I think, I'd been there for about a year. But then we became very good friends. Right. Whereas, in the old Zoology Department, they said, come, of course come and work here, and there's your bench, and what do you want to do? And I said, I want to study transplantation and I- There was one thing which I realised then, which was actually; I was a little bit ahead of Peter I think, which was- mice were things to work on because of the genetics, you know, all these inbred mice. So I wanted to keep all these mice. They said, that's fine and how are you going to keep them? I said, well I think you're supposed to put them in cages. And they said, oh fine. And if you're happy, actually we've got a room actually waiting where you could put cages in when you've got them, but I didn't have ay cages. And it wasn't quite so easy in 1948 to acquire cages. And eventually, with my friend Donald Michie who was also starting up mouse work, but not on immunology, but on other things, on coat colour, we solved the problem up to a point by buying a load of refrigerator trays, enameled refrigerator trays from pressed steel in Cowley, whose main business was making motor cars for Lord Nuffield, but I think they were an off-shot of the motor because they'd also started making refrigerators. So they had these refrigerator trays and they weren't ideal for putting mice into, but they did. Eventually they all rusted through and the mice ran out and ran around the room. But since they were, in my opinion, since they were all inbred mice and all more or less the same it didn't matter which cage they went back into.

Avrion Mitchison, the British zoologist, is currently Professor Emeritus at University College London and is best known for his work demonstrating the role of lymphocytes in tumour rejection and for the separate and cooperative roles of T- and B-lymphocytes in this and other processes.

Listeners: Martin Raff

Martin Raff is a Canadian-born neurologist and research biologist who has made important contributions to immunology and cell development. He has a special interest in apoptosis, the phenomenon of cell death.



Listen to Martin Raff at Web of Stories



Duration: 3 minutes, 47 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008