Friday, July 1, 2011

An unstoppable team in blood grouping: R. R. Race and Ruth Sanger

The archives of Robert Russell Race and Ruth Sanger have recently been made available for consultation in the Wellcome Library (ref. PP/SAR). Race and Sanger are best known for their contribution to the understanding of blood groups, in particular Rh antigens and antibodies, and the genetic mapping of the X chromosome.

Robert Race was born in 1907. After qualifying in medicine in 1933 he became an assistant in a pathological laboratory. In 1937 he was appointed assistant serologist to Professor Ronald Fisher at the Galton Laboratory, University College London, as part of the laboratory serum unit. During the Second World War the unit moved to Cambridge with the duty of preparing blood grouping serum for transfusion purposes.

In 1946 the unit was reconstituted at the Lister Institute for Preventative Medicine in London as the Medical Research Council Blood Group Research Unit, with Race appointed Director. The MRC Blood Group Unit acquired an international reputation in the field of haematology, receiving blood samples from all over the world, and, in 1965, it extended its work into the genetics of blood groups. One of the unit's important contributions was the discovery of the Xg antigen in the 1960s.

Ruth Sanger was born in Australia and first came to England in 1946 to work with Race and complete her PhD. After completing her studies in 1948 she briefly returned to Australia, and then rejoined the staff of the unit in 1950. From this point the work of Race and Sanger becomes intertwined, with most major papers being written together. The first edition of Blood Groups in Man was published in 1950 and quickly became the standard reference text. Race and Sanger married in 1956, and upon the retirement of Race as Director of the Unit in 1973, Sanger became Director until her retirement in 1983.

The collection contains personalia, research notes, newspaper cuttings and photographs relating to honours and awards received, correspondence and papers relating to societies that Race and Sanger were associated with, programmes and photographs of conferences and visits, and reprints of articles written by Race and Sanger. At the heart of the collection is a series of 115 typescripts of lectures given by Race and/or Sanger between 1939-1977. These lectures reflect their research activities and relate to many other parts of the collection.

Complementing the personal papers of Race and Sanger are the archives of the MRC Blood Group Unit. Although progress reports for the unit are in the papers of Race and Sanger, the organisational records of the unit are a separate collection (ref. SA/BGU). Together these collections provide a detailed insight into the work of Race and Sanger.

Both collections will be digitised later this year as part of the Wellcome Digital Library programme, which is currently focussed on the theme of 'Modern Genetics and its Foundations'. Other notable collections being digitised include the papers of Francis Crick, Fred Sanger, Arthur Mourant, and Sir Peter Medawar. For further details see the archives digitisation pages.

Author: Toni Hardy

Image: Sanger and Race together in August 1978, from file PP/SAR/F/6/5. The location is unknown, possibly their office at the Lister Institute; readers may like to amuse themselves trying to match the titles of the files behind them to those in the archive collections.

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