James Mowbray obituary

<span>James Mowbray helped to improved outcomes for people who have organ transplants</span><span>Photograph: none</span>
James Mowbray helped to improved outcomes for people who have organ transplantsPhotograph: none

My father, James Mowbray, who has died aged 94, was an immunopathologist and pioneer in the field of organ transplantation, and contributed a great deal to the understanding of rejection. His research helped to develop treatments that improved outcomes for people undergoing transplants and also came to the aid of women faced with repeated miscarriages.

As a junior doctor James worked in the late 1950s with the renowned professor of medicine Stan Peart during early kidney transplants, and his involvement led him to make a number of useful observations, including, for example, that kidneys were less likely to be rejected if blood transfusions were given before transplantation.

James’s special interest later led to involvement with the first UK heart transplants, and also caused him to suggest that an immunological response to persistent viral infections might be the cause of chronic fatigue syndrome. This in turn helped him to develop treatment for pregnant mothers whose immune system might be responsible for their miscarriages.

Born in Selby, North Yorkshire, he was the son of James, the managing director of the British Sugar Corporation, and Ethel (nee Taylor), a secretary. As his father was a Canadian he spent some of his early years in Toronto, where he was educated at Upper Canada college before returning to England to Merchant Taylors’ school in Middlesex. He met his future wife, Sheila Bell, while studying natural sciences at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, and they married in 1954.

It was at St Mary’s hospital in Paddington, west London, that James linked up with Peart, progressing to work on kidney and heart transplantations as a senior lecturer in the hospital’s medical unit and then moving in 1968 to the department of experimental pathology at St Mary’s, where he eventually became the first professor of immunopathology anywhere in the world, remaining in post until his retirement in 1995.

James’s interest in the mysteries surrounding chronic fatigue syndrome led him to discover that many patients had particular symptoms that suggested a physical disease, a view that was not popular at the time.

He also investigated a small minority of women who suffered multiple first trimester miscarriages, postulating that while almost all mothers produce antibodies that bind to the unfamiliar proteins in their embryos coming from the father’s DNA, those suffering multiple miscarriages do not produce such antibodies, so that their immune system sees the baby as “foreign” and rejects it – much in the same way as a transplanted kidney might be rejected.

His team then stimulated antibody production in such mothers by using the fathers’ white cells, which allowed them to progress to full term. Hundreds of women who had almost given up hope of having babies went on to have healthy offspring after this treatment, leading James to joke that: “I got 1,500 women pregnant.” At his retirement party 400 families attended to say thank you.

James was in regular demand to contribute his views on television and radio programmes, but did not court publicity.

Sheila died last year. He is survived by their three sons, Michael, Robert and me, six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.