Robin Coombs

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Robin Coombs
Born (1921-01-09)9 January 1921
London, England
Died 25 January 2006(2006-01-25) (aged 85)
Cambridge, England
Nationality British
Alma mater Edinburgh University;
King's College, Cambridge
Known for Coombs test;
Gell–Coombs classification
Awards Gairdner Foundation International Award (1965)
Scientific career
Fields Immunology
Institutions Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

Robert Royston Amos ("Robin") Coombs (9 January 1921 – 25 January 2006),[1] was a British immunologist, co-discoverer of the Coombs test (1945) used for detecting antibodies in various clinical scenarios, such as Rh disease and blood transfusion.


He was born in London and studied veterinary medicine at Edinburgh University. In 1943 he went up to King's College, Cambridge, where he commenced work on a doctorate, which he gained in 1947. Before finishing his doctorate, he developed and published methods to detect antibodies with Dr. Arthur Mourant and Dr. Rob Race in 1945.[2] This is the test now referred to as the Coombs test, which, according to the legend, was first devised while Coombs was travelling on the train.[3]

Coombs became a professor and researcher at the Department of Pathology of University of Cambridge, becoming a Fellow of Corpus Christi College, and a founder of its Division of Immunology. He was appointed the fourth Quick Professor of Biology in 1966 and continued to work at Cambridge University until 1988[3]

In November 1956, Coombs founded the British Society for Immunology alongside John H. Humphrey, Bob White, and Avrion Mitchison.

He received honorary doctoral degrees by the University of Guelph, Canada, and the University of Edinburgh, Scotland and was a Fellow of the Royal Society of the United Kingdom (1965), a Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians.

Coombs was married to Anne Blomfield, his first graduate student. They had a son and a daughter.[3]


The Coombs test, which he developed and published together with Dr Arthur Mourant and Dr Rob Race in 1945, has formed the base of a large number of laboratory investigations in the fields of hematology and immunology.[2][3][4]

Together with Professor Philip George Howthern Gell, he developed a classification of immune mechanisms of tissue injury, now known as the "Gell–Coombs classification", comprising four types of reactions.[5]

Together with W.E. Parish and A.F. Wells he put forward an explanation of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) as an anaphylactic reaction to dairy proteins.[6]


  1. ^ Lachmann, P.; Waldmann, H. (2009). "Robert Royston Amos (Robin) Coombs. 9 January 1921 -- 25 January 2006". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 55: 45–58. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2008.0021. 
  2. ^ a b Coombs RR, Mourant AE, Race RR (1945). "Detection of weak and "incomplete" Rh agglutinins: a new test". Lancet. 246 (6358): 15–6. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(45)90806-3. 
  3. ^ a b c d Pincock S (2006). "Robert Royston Amos (Robin) Coombs". Lancet. 367 (9518): 1234. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(06)68528-0. 
  4. ^ Coombs RR (1998). "Historical note: past, present and future of the antiglobulin test". Vox Sang. 74 (2): 67–73. doi:10.1159/000030908. PMID 9501403. 
  5. ^ Gell PG, Coombs RR (1963). Clinical Aspects of Immunology. London: Blackwell. 
  6. ^ Coombs RR, Parish WE, Walls AF (2000). Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: Could a healthy infant succumb to inhalation-anaphylaxis during sleep leading to cot death?. Cambridge Publications Ltd. ISBN 0-9540081-0-3. 

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