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.
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.