Alan Frederick Williams (1945-1992): archive

  • Williams, Alan Frederick, PhD, FRS, (1945-1992), biochemist and immunologist, Director Medical Research Council Cellular Immunology Unit 1977-1992
  • Archives and manuscripts

About this work


This collection comprises of two series of correspondence files maintained by Alan Williams, in A-Z order covering both his immunology research and his work as the head of the Dunn School of Pathology and the Medical Research Council Cellular Immunology Unit. These can be found in sections PP/AFW/A and PP/AFW/C. There is also a file of articles of interest that were sent to Williams and a black and white photograph of him.

Section PP/AFW/B contains a series of notebooks compiled by Williams including early notes on methods of experimentation and a series of notebooks relating to his research which are full of data, notations, findings, comments and diagrams. This section also includes several notebooks of lab plans.

Section PP/AFW/D includes Williams' reference files including raw data and notes on his research.

Section PP/AFW/E contains digital copies of interviews with Williams and a biographical article written to commemorate his death in 1992.



Physical description

37 boxes

Acquisition note

The material was donated to the library at Wellcome Collection by the Dunn School of Pathology, Oxford, 17/06/1998 (Acc.759) and 12/08/1998 (Acc.765) and also by the family 05/08/1999 (Acc.807).

Biographical note

Alan F. Williams was born in Australia, 25 May 1945. Educated in Melbourne, he studied agricultural science for his first degree at Melbourne University (1967). He obtained his doctorate - on the process of red blood cell production in chickens - from Adelaide University. He moved to England in 1970 to become a a research fellow at Linacre College, Oxford. In 1977 Williams was appointed Director of the MRC Cellular Immunology Unit in Oxford. In 1990 he became Professor of Immunology, Oxford University. At the time of his death he had been due to take up a new position as Head of the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology in Oxford (to succeed Professor Henry Harris).

During his career Williams made three important contributions to our understanding of the immune system and its components. The first major contribution was the characterisation (or biochemistry of molecules) at the surface of leucocytes (the white blood cells that mediate immunity). He proposed that proteins related in evolution to immunoglobins might have a more general role in other cells, i.e. functions beyond immunity. This fed into the concept of the immunoglobin superfamily. This theory was validated in later years with the discovery of more than 50 related proteins.
He characterised the first mammalian protein to be inserted into the cell membrane by a novel method involving glycophospholipid rather than the usual hydrophobic amino acids and realised the potential for monoclonal antibodies for recognising and purifying cell-surface molecules and published a paper with Cesar Milstein and a co-worker which described the characterisation of three new molecules (one of these was the rat equivalent of what became known as CD4 which others were to show was the receptor for the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS).

The contributions of Alan Williams were recognised nationally and internationally in his election to the European Molecular Biology Organisation in 1984, the American Association of Immunologists in 1989 and the Scandinavian Society of Immunology in 1990. Also in 1990 he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society and Fellow of Brasenose College Oxford.

Williams was known for his enthusiasm, drive and energy which helped bring many biochemical research projects to fruition. He married Rosalind Wright in 1967 and they had one son and one daughter. Williams died from lung cancer in April 1992, aged 46.

Terms of use

This collection has been catalogued and is available to library members. Some items have access restrictions which are explained in the item-level catalogue records.

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Accession number

  • 759
  • 765
  • 807
  • 2516