Henry Harris (scientist)

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Sir Henry Harris, FRS, FAA (born 28 January 1925) is an Australian-born professor of medicine at the University of Oxford, now retired, who led pioneering work on cancer and human genetics in the 1960s.

Early life and education[edit]

Harris was born in Australia into a family of Russian Jewish immigrants.

Educated at Sydney Boys High School from 1937-1941,[1] he first read modern languages in 1941, but was subsequently attracted to medicine through his literary interests. He studied medicine at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and began a career in medical research rather than clinical practice.


In the early 1950s, Harris moved to England to study at the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology in Oxford under Howard Florey. He completed his DPhil in 1954 and settled down to a career of academic research. In 1960 he was appointed as head of the new department of cell biology at the John Innes Institute, and in 1964 he succeeded Florey as Head of the Dunn School, and in 1979 he was appointed as Oxford's Regius Professor of Medicine succeeding Sir Richard Doll.

Harris's research interests were primarily focused on cancer cells and of their differences from normal cells, and later on the possibilities of genetic modification of human cell lines with material of other species in order to increase the range of genetic markers. Harris and his colleagues developed some of the basic techniques for investigating and measuring genes along the human chromosome.

In 1965 he reported his observation that most nuclear RNA was non-coding, a view that was not widely accepted until years later.[2]

In 1969 Harris showed that when malignant cancer cells were fused with normal fibroblasts, the resulting hybrids were not malignant, thus demonstrating the existence of genes that had the ability to suppress malignancy. Work on these tumour suppressor genes has become a worldwide industry.[citation needed]

In 1983 Harris was elected to the Australian Academy of science as a Corresponding Fellow.

Much of Harris's work has been supported by Cancer Research UK (formerly the Cancer Research Campaign).[citation needed]


Published works[edit]

  • Harris, Henry (1970). Cell Fusion. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-857344-8. 
  • Harris, Henry (1974). Nucleus and cytoplasm. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-854125-2. 
  • Harris, Henry (1979). Scientific models and man. Oxford and New York: Clarendon Press and Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-857168-2. 
  • Harris, Henry (1987). The balance of improbabilities : a scientific life. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-858217-X. 
  • Harris, Henry (1993). Hippolyte's club foot : the medical roots of realism in modern European literature. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-951362-7.  (The Romanes Lecture for 1993).
  • Harris, Henry (1995). The cells of the body : a history of somatic cell genetics. Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. ISBN 0-87969-533-1. 
  • Harris, Henry (2000). The Birth of the Cell. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-08295-9. 
  • Harris, Henry (2002). Things Come to Life: Spontaneous Generation Revisited. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-851538-3. 
  • Harris, Henry (2006). Remnants of a Quiet Life. Twin Serpents Limited. ISBN 1-905524-27-7. 


  1. ^ http://www.shsobu.org.au/wp-content/uploads/imperial-honours.pdf
  2. ^ Bryson, V; Vogel, HJ (Jan 1, 1965). "Evolving Genes and Proteins.". Science 147 (3653): 469. doi:10.1126/science.147.3653.68. PMID 17799782. 

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