Professor and Department Head
Cancer & Immunogenetics Laboratory
Walter Bodmer FRS CV
Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine
John Radcliffe Hospital
Sir Walter Bodmer got his BA in mathematics (1956) and then his Ph.D. in population genetics (1959) under Sir Ronald Fisher at Cambridge University. He did his post- doctoral work in molecular biology under Dr Joshua Lederberg at Stanford and then was on the faculty of the Genetics Department in the Stanford University Medical School until 1970, ending up as a Full Professor. He returned to England in 1970 to become Professor of Genetics and head of a new department at Oxford University, and then in 1979 became Director of Research, and later Director General, of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund. Since 1996 he has been head of the cancer and immunogenetics laboratory at the Weatherall Insitute of Molecular Medicine at Oxford University, and from 1996 to 2005 was also the Principal of Hertford College, Oxford.
Walter Bodmer became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1974, a Foreign Member of the US National Academy of Sciences in 1981 and was Knighted in 1986 for his contributions to science. In 2013 he was awarded a Royal Society Royal Medal for seminal contributions to population genetics, gene mapping and understanding of familial genetic disease. He is the recipient of more than 20 honorary degrees and is an Honorary Fellow or member of more than 15 medical and scientific societies and professional bodies. Walter Bodmer was amongst the earliest to suggest the human genome project and was the second President of HUGO, the Human Genome Organisation.
Sir Walter’s early research was in population genetics, especially the relationship between selection and linkage. He was one of the first to use computers for the simulation of population genetics models starting in 1957. On coming to Stanford he initiated work on the HLA system with Julia Bodmer and Rose Payne, leading to their discovery of what became the HLA -A locus, and also on somatic cell genetics using human-mouse hybrids. His laboratory described some of the first genetic linkages and chromosomal assignments using this technique, and, in collaboration with others, mapped the abl oncogene to chromosome 9, laying the foundations for the discovery of bcr/abl at the 9/22 translocation break point in CML.
Walter Bodmer, with Hugh McDevitt, provided the first explanation for the association of HLA determinants with disease in terms of linkage disequilibrium with functional variation in the HLA region, and then made the suggestion that, quite generally, association studies with genetic markers could be used to search for the genetic basis of multifactorial disease susceptibility. This has been the whole basis for the more recent development of whole genome association studies to discover the basis for genetic susceptibility to common diseases. His laboratory obtained the first monoclonal antibodies to HLA determinants, which have been widely used in immunological research. They were the first to clone the HLA ClassII genes and the first to map the FAP/APC gene to chromosome 5q, following which they have done many studies on mutations in the APC and other genes in colorectal cancer.
More recently, Sir Walter’s laboratory has focused its research on (the fundamental genetics and biology of colorectal cancer and their potential applications, and the characterization and population distribution of genetic diversity in the populations of the British Isles. The latter work has been supported by two successive Wellcome Trust grants and the samples collected are now being used in the WTCC2 studies. The current focus of this work is on establishing the genetic basis of a variety of normal traits, including especially facial features.
Walter Bodmer has also pioneered the hypothesis that rare variants underlie much of the inherited susceptibility to chronic diseases, using colorectal cancer as a model. His laboratory is now working with a panel of more than 100 well characterized colorectal cancer derived cell lines with a major interest in the identification and functional analysis of cancer stem cells using the colorectal cancer derived cell lines as a model, and in using enriched cancer stem cells for preclinical investigation of novel drug responses. Their research also includes studies on antibody dependent killing of colorectal cancer cells in vitro as a prelude to their clinical development for treatment of colorectal cancer and, in collaboration with the Danish Technical University, a microfluidics approach to the analysis of fresh tumor biopsies and rare circulating cancer cells in the blood.