Professor Robert (Robin) Royston Amos Coombs (1921-2006)

  • Coombs, Professor Robert (Robin) Royston Amos, FRS, FCPath, Hon FRCP, (1921-2006), Immunologist
  • Archives and manuscripts

About this work


The following is an interim description which may change when detailed cataloguing takes place in future:

Professional papers of Professor Robin Coombs. The material is wide ranging and covers his work at Cambridge University Department of Pathology comprising experimental and clinical research, immunology teaching, his posts at Cambridge and his other related professional activities. Notably included is correspondence with other scientists, files on antiglobulin reaction and sero-morphology, allergic reaction, coeliac disease, rheumatic arthritis, blood transfusion and immuno-haematology, and much material relating to his research into cot death. There is also a complete bound set of his published papers.



Physical description

37 Transfer Boxes

Acquisition note

The papers were donated to the library at Wellcome Collection by Mrs Anne Coombs, 4 April 2007.

Biographical note

Professor Robin Coombs was an immunologist who invented the antiglobulin test that allows detection of anti-rhesus antibodies. The test, developed in 1945, is widely used to diagnose certain kinds of anaemia and prevent negative reactions to blood transfusions. Robert Royston Amos Coombs was born in London 1921 and brought up in Cape Town, South Africa. He returned to the UK to train at the Royal Veterinary College Edinburgh, qualifying in veterinary medicine in 1943. After a short period at the Weybridge laboratory he joined the Department of Pathology at Cambridge University as a PhD student. He spent the rest of his career at Cambridge University Department of Pathology, specialising in clinical immunology. He gained his PhD in Immunology in 1947 and ScD in 1966. In 1968 Coombs was appointed Quick Professor of Biology and Head of Immunology Division, Department of Pathology.

Research papers on the results of Coombs' experiments with Cambridge colleagues Arthur Mourant and Rob Race on rhesus antibodies were published in the The Lancet and the Journal of Experimental Pathology in 1945 and 1946.

In 1963 he published with Philip Gell what became a seminal text book on Clinical Aspects of Immunology. This was revised and reprinted in 1968, 1975 and 1982 (although Coombs' name was not included in the 1982 print).

In 1956 Coombs was a founding member and first general secretary of the British Society for Immunology.

Coombs was a prolific author of more about 270 scientific papers (a full list is held on file by the Archives and Manuscripts department of the Wellcome Library). He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1965, Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists in 1968 and Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1973.

From the 1960s onwards he carried out research into cot-deaths, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), positing a inhalation-anaphylaxis theory brought on by allergic reaction to cow's milk. A monograph was privately published in 2000 by Cambridge Publications Ltd, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: Could a healthy infant succumb to inhalation-anaphylaxis during sleep leading to cot death?, Coombs, Parish and Walls (2000). His work in this field has not been highly publicised.

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Accession number

  • 2461
  • 1503