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Editorials and Perspectives: Obituary

Obituary for Arnold Sanderson 1933–2011

Early Pioneer in Transplantation Antigens Research

Beverley, Peter

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doi: 10.1097/TP.0b013e318260f0ca
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Arnold Raymond Sanderson (Table 1) was born in the Durham mining village of Hunwick and, after a grammar school education, went to King’s College Durham (later a part of Newcastle University) where he obtained a first class honors degree in chemistry. He went on to do his Ph.D. there with Sir James Baddiley, working on the chemical structure of bacterial cell wall carbohydrates. This led to the characterization of teichoic acid. Arnold then obtained a Fulbright Scholarship to go to Jack Strominger’s group, then at the Washington University in St. Louis, where he met Stan Nathenson and continued to work on bacterial cell wall carbohydrates. After spells as a chemist at the Guinness Brewery in Dublin and with the Ministry of Defense at Porton Down, he joined the McIndoe Memorial Laboratories in East Grinstead in 1964 under Morten Simonsen, later becoming Deputy Director of Research under Richard Batchelor. It was here that he embarked on the studies of transplantation antigens for which he is best known to his fellow immunologists, although Arnold himself believed that his best work had been on the bacterial cell wall sugars.

Highlights of Arnold Sanderson’s Life and Career

In the early 1960s, Arnold developed a radiolabel cytotoxic assay and worked on the specificity of mouse isoantisera, defining H2 specificities, while in 1967, he published his first article on human leukocyte antigen (HLA) typing. For the next few years, Arnold pursued twin interests in the serology and chemistry of transplantation antigens.

He recruited Peter Cresswell as his first Ph.D. student, and Peter later recalled, “Arnold and I had a lot in common, both being from mining communities in the north of England, although he was always proud of the fact that he was from farther north than me. I owe a major debt to him. He was directly responsible for diverting me from a probably not too productive career in chemistry to a really stimulating one in immunology. When I arrived in his lab, I knew no biology let alone immunology, and I had no idea how to design an experiment. Arnold was a master when it came to this. ‘Have you done all the controls?’ is the question I always remember when I think of him.”

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Peter went on to Jack Strominger’s lab, by then at Harvard, as a postdoctoral researcher, and Arnold arranged annual visits to the lab as a consultant. This led to groundbreaking early biochemical studies of HLA antigens, involving Arnold and Jack, Peter Cresswell, Peter Parham, Mervyn Turner, and Dean Mann, culminating in a article in the Journal of Biological Chemistry in 1975, describing the papain solubilization of HLA antigens from a cell line, a methodology that led to the elucidation of the structure of HLA (1). During this period, Arnold continued to explore the serology of HLA with many of the leading figures in the field including Richard Batchelor, Erik Thorsby, and Ken Welsh. When interest in transplantation antigens exploded, after the discovery that they were antigen-presenting molecules, this work provided a solid foundation of structural information.

In the 1970s, Arnold came to the Zoology Department at University College London, which was at that time a center for research in immunology led by Avrion Mitchison, to do a sabbatical in my laboratory. By that time, he had developed an interest in β2-microglobulin, which he pursued throughout the rest of his career, developing assays for the molecule; studying its loss, along with HLA, in tumors; and investigating its role in the biology of human cytomegalovirus.

Arnold was not only a first-class chemist and immunologist who inspired his colleagues and students, but also a larger than life character with many other interests. He was a successful entrepreneur, setting up the Buxted rabbit company to make antisera and complement and taking over Linscott’s Directory for scientific materials. Although he turned down an invitation to stand as a parliamentary candidate in County Durham, he played a part in local affairs in Sussex as the president of Ashurst Wood Cricket Club and as a labor member of East Grinstead Town Council. However, his abiding passion was for horse racing, and during the years, he owned several winners. As an organizing committee member of the second International Congress of Immunology in Brighton in 1973, he arranged a trip to Brighton races for attendees of the meeting. Later, he worked at Guy’s Hospital in the wonderfully appropriately named Nag’s Head Yard so that, when we wrote a review together on “Interferon, β2-microglobulin and immunoselection in the pathway to malignancy” (2), Arnold could not resist giving it the subtitle “a blinkered view from the Nag’s Head Yard.”

Arnold was an excellent organizer and used these skills in serving professional organizations: first, the Transplantation Society, as Treasurer from 1975 to 1979 and as an editor of Transplantation, and second, in the British Society for Immunology (BSI). He was elected General Secretary of the BSI in 1979 and played a key role in its development into a professionally run organization. Importantly, he was involved with other committee members in successfully negotiating a more financially favorable contract with the publishers of the Society’s journals, putting the Society on a sound financial footing for the first time. He was also an enthusiastic supporter of the Society’s meetings and summer schools.

In 1980, Edward Jenner’s house at Berkeley in Gloucestershire came on the market, and Arnold initiated a successful appeal to purchase and restore the house in which Jenner lived when he carried out his experiment on vaccination in 1796. Today, the house and Temple of Vaccinia, in which Jenner vaccinated his patients, are maintained as the Edward Jenner Museum by an independent trust.

Arnold first noticed symptoms of the glioma that killed him in September 2011 but faced his illness rationally and bravely. His family was a very important part of his life, and in his final illness, he was looked after at home by his wife Dorothy and his three daughters, who had supported him throughout his long and interesting career. Arnold made enormous contributions to the BSI, the Jenner Trust, and immunology. He leaves a host of friends all over the world who will remember him as a stimulating and generous colleague, but above all a man who was always great company and hugely enlivened every gathering at which he was present.


1. Turner MJ, Cresswell P, Parham P, et al.. Purification of papain-solubilized histocompatibility antigens from a cultured human lymphoblastoid line, RPMI 4265. J Biol Chem 1975; 250: 4512.
2. Sanderson AR, Beverley PCL. Interferon, β-2–microglobulin and immunoselection in the pathway to malignancy: a blinkered view from the Nag’s Head Yard. Immunol Today 1983; 4: 211.
© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.