Rodney Robert Porter CH, FRS was an English biochemist is son of Joseph L. Porter (railroad clerk)and Isobel Reese Porter born in Newton-le-Willows, Lancashire, England. Porter received his Hons.B.Sc. (Biochemistry) in 1939 at the University of Liverpool and his Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge in 1948, where he became Fred Sanger’s first PhD student. In 1949 Professor Porter joined the scientific staff of the National Institute of Medical Research. In 1960 he joined St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School, London University as the first Pfizer Professor of Immunology. In 1967 he was appointed Whitley Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Oxford, and Fellow of Trinity College. His colleague Elizabeth Press (Betty Press) worked with him at NIMR, St Mary’s and at Oxford contributing extensively to the work which led to the Nobel Prize.
In 1972, Porter shared the Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology with Gerald M. Edelman for determining the chemical structure of an antibody. Porter’s most fundamental contribution was his hypothesis that antibodies had a Y-shaped structure. Using the enzyme papain, he succeeded in splitting rabbit immunoglobulin G (IgG) into three parts: a large component that had no antigen-binding capability (the base of the Y) and two smaller fragments with active sites that bound to the antigen (the Y’s arms). He also looked into how the blood’s immunoglobins react with cellular surfaces. He subsequently worked with colleagues Kenneth BM Reid, Robert Sim and Duncan Campbell on developing understanding of the Complement Proteins associated with defence mechanism.
In 1991, Raymond Dwek founded the Oxford Glycobiology Institute at the Department of Biochemistry, University of Oxford and this building was named after Porter as the Rodney Porter building.
Porter was originally inspired by Karl Landsteiner’s The Specificity of Serological Reactions, and he studied under Nobel laureate Frederick Sanger. His education was interrupted by World War II, in which Porter spent six years (1940-46, Maj.) with the British Army, serving in Austria, Crete, Greece, and Italy, and rising to the rank of Major.
He received the Gairdner Foundation Award of Merit (1966), the Ciba Medal (Biochemical Society-1967), the Karl Landsteiner Memorial Award from the American Association of Blood Banks (1968), and National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A., Foreign Member (1972). He died in a road accident near Winchester, Hampshire and is survived by his wife and five children.