Sir James Gowans CBE FMedSci FRS

Several times a day, enough lymphocytes enter the blood from major lymphatic trunks to replace all those already in circulation. James Gowans was the immunologist who solved the mystery of where these extra lymphocytes disappear to: after leaving the blood, they enter lymph nodes then pass again into the blood via lymphatic vessels. In fact, most lymphocytes are long-lived cells that recirculate between blood and lymph.

He subsequently showed that these small, apparently non-dividing cells react with antigens to initiate immune responses during which they enlarge, divide and differentiate into effectors. Recirculation provides a mechanism for selecting then directing lymphocytes of the correct specificity to lymphoid tissue in which antigen has localised.

James was a Royal Society Research Professor (1962–1977) and Secretary of the Medical Research Council (1977–1987). He held numerous honorary doctorates, received the 1980 Wolf Prize in Medicine and was an Associate of the US Academy of Sciences. He was also Secretary General of the Human Frontier Science Program, which funds basic life sciences research. He was knighted in 1982.

Sir James Gowans CBE FMedSci FRS died on 1 April 2020.

Subject groups

  • Microbiology, immunology and developmental biology

    Cellular and humoral immunology


  • Royal Medals

    In recognition of his distinguished research in the field of immunology, especially as regards the recirculation and immunological role of lymphocytes.

  • Wolf Prize

    In the field of medicine for their contributions to knowledge of the function and dysfunction of the body cells through their studies on the immunological role of the lymphocytes, the development of specific antibodies and the elucidation of mechanisms go

Sir James Gowans CBE FMedSci FRS
Elected 1963