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Christopher Dobson: chemist whose work on proteins advanced research into neurodegenerative diseases

BMJ 2019; 367 doi: (Published 18 October 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;367:l6054
  1. Rebecca Wallersteiner
  1. London, UK
  1. wallersteiner{at}
St John’s College, Cambridge

Christopher Dobson, master of St John’s College, Cambridge, whose work on proteins advanced research into diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, died at the Royal Marsden Hospital, Surrey, at the age of 69.

Born in Rinteln, Germany, the son of Arthur Dobson, an army officer, and Mabel, née Pollard, Christopher Dobson was educated at Hereford Cathedral Junior School, Abingdon School (where he was a rowing cox), and Keble College, Oxford, where he took a first in chemistry before going on to take a DPhil at Merton College. Both his parents were originally from Bradford in Yorkshire and had left school aged 14. He had two elder siblings, Graham and Gillian. Because of his father’s postings, Dobson’s early life was fairly nomadic. “He grew up in Nigeria in the formative part of his childhood, which created a lifelong fascination with different cultures,” said his son, William. He first wanted to be an architect but owing to “inspirational science teachers” at Abingdon, he instead chose to study chemistry at university.

Dobson devoted his life to researching diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s and understanding the chemical processes that disrupt the production of healthy proteins and instead trigger their aggregation into toxic clumps. He became one of the world’s leading experts on protein “folding” and “aggregation,” and its links to neurodegenerative conditions. “Alzheimer’s disease is a new ‘plague,’ already affecting 40 million people worldwide,” he said. “It’s one of a group of non-infectious diseases that terrifies us.”

Amyloid structures

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