Sir Christopher Dobson†, FRS

It is with deep sadness that we report the death, on Sunday 8th September 2019, of Sir Christopher Dobson, FRS, a Trustee of the Wilkinson Charitable Foundation.

Chris Dobson was born in Germany in October 1949 to parents who were stationed there with the British Army. It was his father’s military career that led him to spend some of his youth abroad in countries including Nigeria. Chris was educated in the UK first at Hereford Cathedral Junior School then at Abington School.

BSc and PhD Degrees at Oxford were followed by Fellowships in Oxford and a short spell in Harvard before returning to a Lectureship in Chemistry at Oxford and Fellowship of Lady Margaret Hall. He quickly rose through the ranks being appointed Professor in 1996, the year he was also elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. Chris Dobson built a strong and world leading group in Oxford before moving to Cambridge as John Humphrey Plummer Professor of Chemical and Structural Biology (2001), subsequently becoming Master of St John’s College in 2007. Chris Dobson founded the Cambridge Centre for Misfolding Diseases in 2012 and cofounded Wren Therapeutics, a spin-out company, in 2016. He was knighted in the Birthday Honours, 2018.

Most of Chris Dobson’s research concerned studies, mainly using NMR methods, of how proteins fold and misfold. He postulated that misfolding can lead to disease states and discovered that, under some circumstances, proteins can spontaneously degrade into amyloid plaques. Since amyloid plaques are found in brains of people who have died from Alzheimer’s disease, it appeared that there might be a clear connection between protein misfolding and Alzheimer’s disease.  Much of the recent work of Chris’s group has involved obtaining a detailed understanding of how proteins misfold and how that misfolding can be reversed or interrupted. The group has made remarkable progress and the possibility of a cure for Alzheimer’s and related diseases has become much closer as a result of their pioneering studies. Wren Pharmaceuticals has been set up to exploit these findings and to develop therapeutic agents arising from them. Chris Dobson authored around 900 publications with an h index of >130 and around 5000 citations per year. Aside for his Fellowship of the Royal Society and Knighthood, Chris Dobson has been awarded accolades from countries as diverse as India, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Ireland, German and the United States. Amongst his many UK medals and prizes are both the Davy and Royal Medals of the Royal Society.

Sir Christopher Dobson supervised and mentored a very large number of postgraduate students and postdoctoral fellows, showing that balance of total academic integrity and rigour with compassion and humanity that is the mark of an outstanding supervisor. He also employed these skills to be a much loved and highly successful Master of St. John’s College Cambridge.

Chris Dobson became a Trustee of the Wilkinson Charitable Foundation about 3 years ago bringing a deep knowledge of Chemistry and very significant financial experience. He has helped steer the Foundation towards the funding of many chemistry related projects always offering advice with great charm and tact.

Chris Dobson is survived by his wife Mary, formerly Director of the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine in Oxford and their two sons, Richard and William. He touched the lives of everyone he met and will be very sorely missed by so many.

David Cole-Hamilton
16th September, 2019

Photo: Jussi Puikkonen/KNAWKNAW Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons