Sir William Dunn School of Pathology is located in Oxford city centre
Sir William Dunn School of Pathology
Location of Sir William Dunn School of Pathology within central Oxford

The Sir William Dunn School of Pathology[1] is a department within the University of Oxford. Its research programme includes the cellular and molecular biology of pathogens, the immune response, cancer and cardiovascular disease. It teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in the medical sciences.

The school is named for Sir William Dunn, 1st Baronet, of Lakenheath, whose will provided the initial funding.[2] It is located towards the east end of South Parks Road, to the north of the city centre.


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Sir William Dunn School of Pathology, 2021
Sir William Dunn School of Pathology, 2021

The first course of Pathology teaching in the University of Oxford was given in 1894 by Professor John Burdon Sanderson, Professor of Physiology, (Regius Professor of Medicine from 1895 to 1905), and Dr James Ritchie, who, in 1897, was appointed as the first University Lecturer in Pathology.

The first Department of Pathology was opened in 1901 and functioned until 1927 when it was handed over to Pharmacology on completion of the new purpose-built Sir William Dunn School of Pathology. This had been made possible by a munificent benefaction of £100,000, made in 1922 by the Trustees set up in the will of Sir William Dunn who died in 1912.

The first full Professor of Pathology, Georges Dreyer, a Dane, was appointed in 1907 and remained in post until he died in 1934. He had a mathematical bent and carried out some of the earliest quantitative assays on immunological reactions to infection. His special interest was in the immunology of enteric infections and tuberculosis and he was deeply involved in efforts to produce vaccines for these diseases. He was responsible for the design and manufacture of the earliest oxygen masks worn by pilots in WWI.

He was succeeded in 1935 by Howard Walter Florey[3] an Australian. Florey was a physiologist by training and was dedicated to the application of physiological and chemical methods to pathology. His main interests were in the physiology of the cells in the gut, inflammatory reactions and atherosclerosis. He is, however, best known for the work done under his direction that demonstrated the therapeutic value of penicillin [4] and thus ushered in the age of antibiotics. The purification of penicillin was achieved by Ernst Chain, Norman Heatley and Edward Abraham, with Chain and Abraham eventually developing a theoretical model for its chemical structure, which was later confirmed by Dorothy Hodgkin using X-ray crystallography.

The textbook, General Pathology,[5] based on the preclinical course at the Dunn School, was first published in 1954, and went through four editions. For many years it was the international standard text on the subject.

After penicillin, the work on antibiotics was continued in the Dunn School by Abraham and Guy Newton, who during the 1950s discovered, purified and established the structure of cephalosporin C, the first of the cephalosporin family of antibiotics. This compound and the ring structure on which it was based were patented, and both Newton and Abraham set up trusts out of the royalties that they received. The Edward Penley Abraham Research Fund, the EPA Cephalosporin Fund and the Guy Newton Research Fund are dedicated to the support of medical, biological and chemical research in the Dunn School, Lincoln College and the University of Oxford.

Florey was succeeded as Professor in 1963 by Henry Harris, another expatriate Australian, who had arrived in Oxford in 1952 to do a DPhil under Florey's supervision. Harris's main interest was in cell biology and especially what was later to become the science of somatic cell genetics. With John Watkins he developed the technique of cell fusion for the study of the physiology and genetics of higher cells. They demonstrated that cell fusion provided a general method for the amalgamation of different cell types across the barriers imposed by species differences and by the process of differentiation.[6] This technique was one of the main roots of somatic cell genetics and, in due course, resulted in the production of monoclonal antibodies.

It was also by means of cell fusion that Harris and Goss devised the first systematic method for determining the order of genes along the human chromosome and the distances between them. In 1969 Harris, collaborating with George Klein in Stockholm, showed that when a wide range of malignant tumour cells were fused with normal fibroblasts, the resulting hybrids were not malignant and had the morphological character of fibroblasts.[7] This meant that there were normal genes that had the ability to suppress malignancy. These genes are now known as tumour suppressor genes and work on them has become a world-wide industry. Harris's research was supported mainly by what is now Cancer Research UK, (originally The British Empire Cancer Campaign, BECC, and then The Cancer Research Campaign, CRC.)

In 1977 Gowans, see below, was replaced as Honorary Director of the MRC Cellular Immunology Research Unit by Alan F. Williams, yet another Australian. Williams was mainly concerned with the structural and biochemical aspects of immunological reactions and developed the concept of the immunoglobulin superfamily. In 1992 Williams was elected to succeed Harris as Professor of Pathology but died before he was able to take up the chair.

The former Head of department, Herman Waldmann, was appointed in 1994. Waldmann's principal interest is in the study of immunological tolerance and application of immunology to the clinic. Professor Matthew Freeman, FRS, became Head of Department in January 2013.

In 2007 Florey's laboratory was proclaimed by the Australian Government as one of the first three sites on the List of Overseas Places of Historic Significance to Australia.



  1. ^ "Sir William Dunn School of Pathology |".
  2. ^ "History of the Dunn School". Sir William Dunn School of Pathology. Retrieved 26 July 2015.
  3. ^ see biography "Howard Florey : the making of a great scientist" by Gwyn Macfarlane. Publisher Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1979. ISBN 0-19-858161-0
  4. ^ "Discovery of Penicillin". Archived from the original on 10 April 2008.
  5. ^ Lectures on general pathology. Florey, H (Ed.) 1954. Loyd-Luke, London (pub). ISBN 978-0-85324-054-9
  6. ^ Hybrid Cells Derived from Mouse and Man : Artificial Heterokaryons of Mammalian Cells from Different Species HENRY HARRIS & J. F. WATKINS Nature 205, 640 - 646 (1965).
  7. ^ Nature 223, 363 - 368 (26 July 1969); doi:10.1038/223363a0 Suppression of Malignancy by Cell Fusion HENRY HARRIS, O. J. MILLER, G. KLEIN, P. WORST & T. TACHIBANA
  8. ^ Nature 299, 178 - 180 (1982); doi:10.1038/299178a0 Molecular cloning of the gene for human anti-haemophilic factor IX. K. H. Choo, K. G. Gould, D. J. G. Rees & G. G. Brownlee
  9. ^ Nature 315, 683 - 685 (1985); doi:10.1038/315683a0 Expression of active human clotting factor IX from recombinant DNA clones in mammalian cells.D. S. Anson*, D. E. G. Austen† & G. G. Brownlee*
  10. ^ J Virol. 1999 Nov;73(11):9679-82. Rescue of influenza A virus from recombinant DNA. Fodor E, Devenish L, Engelhardt OG, Palese P, Brownlee GG, García-Sastre A.
  11. ^ J. Physiol. 1959 Apr 23;146(1):54-69. The recirculation of lymphocytes from blood to lymph in the rat. GOWANS JL.
  12. ^ Cell, Vol 12, 663-673, (1977)Analysis of cell surfaces by xenogeneic myeloma-hybrid antibodies: Differentiation antigens of rat lymphocytes. Alan F. Williams, Giovanni Galfrè and Cesar Milstein
  13. ^ "Elizabeth Robertson group | Sir William Dunn School of Pathology". Archived from the original on 20 October 2013. Retrieved 11 October 2013.
  14. ^ "Liz Robertson — Stem Cells". Archived from the original on 6 November 2013. Retrieved 11 October 2013.
  15. ^ "Principal Research Fellowships: people we've funded". Wellcome. Retrieved 29 January 2018.
  16. ^ "Robertson, Elizabeth Jane". Citation. The Royal Society. 2003. Retrieved 21 October 2012.

Coordinates: 51°45′34″N 1°15′05″W / 51.7595°N 1.2515°W / 51.7595; -1.2515