Lives of the fellows

Julia Gwynaeth (Lady) Bodmer

b.31 July 1934 d.29 January 2001
BA Oxon MA DSc Hon MRCP(1991) Hon FRCP(2000) FMedSci

Julia Bodmer was a distinguished geneticist who played an important role in discovering and defining the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) system, the system of inherited differences which accounts for graft rejection and for susceptibility to autoimmune diseases. She was born Julia Pilkington in Manchester and educated at Manchester High School for Girls, where she was head prefect. She then went, with a state scholarship, to Oxford, to Lady Margaret Hall, to read philosophy, politics and economics, specialising in her final year in economics and statistics. Immediately after graduating, she married Walter Bodmer (later Sir Walter), with whom she would collaborate for much of her working life. She followed him to Cambridge, becoming a statistical assistant to the director of the department of applied economics, W N Reddaway.

She then moved to Stanford University with her husband and had the first two of her three children. She then began working with her husband and the late Rose Payne on tissue typing, then a new field, using her statistical expertise. In her first projects, she identified two new tissue types and laid the basis of the first two genes of the HLA system. She went on to find many new types and analyse their distribution in populations.

In 1970, she moved back to Oxford, to the new genetics laboratory. This enabled her to expand her work to include associations between HLA types and disease. Here she highlighted the association between HLA type and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis, helping to establish the immunological basis of these diseases.

In 1979, she transferred to London, to the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, when her husband became director there. She extended her work to include analyses of Hodgkin’s disease, Burkitt’s lymphoma and testicular cancer. Through her analysis and collection of families with a history of testicular cancer, she was able to identify the first testicular cancer susceptibility gene.

When her husband became principal of Hertford College, she moved back to Oxford to establish, with Sir Walter, a new laboratory, working on genetic variation in human populations.

She helped found the European Federation for Immunogenetics and was president in 1999. She was an honorary Fellow of the College, and a fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences. Lacking a conventional science degree, she was awarded a DSc by Oxford University.

She managed to combine a distinguished scientific career with a happy family life. She is survived by her husband, Sir Walter, and her children – Mark, Helen and Charles.

RCP editor

[The Independent 8 February 2001; The Times 9 February 2001; The Daily Telegraph 22 February 2001]

(Volume XII, page web)

<< Back to List