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LMB colleagues in Cambridge pay tribute to long-serving research assistant John Jarvis following his death at 80

Colleagues of John Jarvis, a former research assistant who spent nearly 40 years at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, have paid warm tributes to him, following his death at the age of 80.

John worked as a personal technical assistant to César Milstein, in the PNAC Division, supporting his pioneering immunology research. César’s work on the development of monoclonal antibodies earned him the 1982 Nobel Prize in Medicine.

Research assistant John Jarvis. Picture: MRC LMB
Research assistant John Jarvis. Picture: MRC LMB

Born in Gravesend, Kent on February 14, 1942, he attended Cambridge Grammar School, and started work in August 1960 as a laboratory assistant in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Biochemistry, where César was completing a PhD prior to returning to his native Argentina and Fred Sanger - who won his first Nobel Prize in 1958 - was working.

He then applied to work with César, now at the LMB, and began as a research assistant in September 1963. He quickly became César’s personal technician, holding the role until César’s death in 2002.

John was involved with the research into immunoglobulin structure, using both protein and DNA sequencing, and the studies on antibody diversity and monoclonal antibody production. He was a joint author on many of the group’s scientific publications.

He also contributed to the work of many others, including George Brownlee, Terry Rabbitts, Michael Neuberger and Cristina Rada.

Research assistant John Jarvis in the lab in the 1960s. Picture: MRC LMB
Research assistant John Jarvis in the lab in the 1960s. Picture: MRC LMB

A keen sportsman who played in LMB teams - notably the cricket team - he was formally constituted in 1968, with a committee set up by Max Perutz. The team had many successes in the University Inter-Lab League, winning their first trophy, the challenge cup, in 1970.

He retired from the LMB in December 2002 as a senior scientific officer and a few years later he moved to Crowborough, East Sussex, but kept in touch and in 2014 attended an alumni symposium, to celebrate the opening of the new LMB building on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus.

Andrew McKenzie, current joint-head of the PNAC Division, said: “John’s dedication and technical skills contributed to one of the most successful research projects at the LMB, the development of monoclonal antibodies, which in turn has led to significant developments in therapeutic treatments and diagnostics.

“Many of his colleagues will remember him as witty, approachable and always ready to offer help and advice. He is the epitome of the many research and support staff that have allowed the LMB to thrive.”

He died on September 1.

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