AIM25 : Click here to go back to the AIM25 homepage
Archives in London and the M25 area

Kekwick, Ralph Ambrose F.R.S. (b.1908)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0120 PP/KEK
Held at: Wellcome Library
  Click here to find out how to view this collection at ›
Full title: Kekwick, Ralph Ambrose F.R.S. (b.1908)
Date(s): 1920-2002
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 21 boxes, 2 o/s files
Name of creator(s): Kekwick | Ralph Ambrose | b 1908 | biophysicist and pioneer in blood plasma research
Detailed catalogue: Click here to view repository detailed catalogue


Administrative/Biographical history:

Ralph Ambrose Kekwick was born on 11 November 1908 at Woodford Wells in Essex. He was educated at the Leyton County High School for Boys and University College London, from where he graduated with First Class Honours B.Sc. in Chemistry in 1928. He remained at University College to undertake research, initially in physical chemistry under F.G. Donnan, then moving to study physical biochemistry under J.C. Drummond during which time he worked in close association with R.K. Cannan. In 1930 he was awarded a Bayliss-Sterling Memorial Scholarship and was also appointed Demonstrator in Biochemistry at University College. In 1931-1933 Kekwick held a Commonwealth Fund Fellowship. This enabled him to spend two years in the United States, studying with R.K. Cannan (who had by then moved to the New York University College of Medicine) and then researching problems of permeability at Princeton University and the Marine Biological Laboratories at Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Kekwick returned to the UK in 1933 to take up a post as Lecturer at University College London where he remained to 1937.

In 1935 Kekwick travelled to Sweden as a Rockefeller Foundation Fellow to work under T. Svedberg at the Institute of Physical Chemistry, University of Uppsala. This proved to be a key moment in Kekwick's career as he was introduced to the ultracentrifuge and electrophoresis apparatus, both developed at Uppsala. The ultracentrifuge, designed by Svedberg and colleagues, was used for the study of protein molecules in blood plasma. It separated out protein molecules to leave a pure protein preparation, for example plasma albumin and globulins while the rate of sedimentation could be measured to give a sedimentation co-efficient (a characteristic property of the protein). This allowed the molecular weight to be calculated and the proteins identified. The electrophoresis apparatus, designed by Tiselius, worked through the measurement of the negative electrical charge of proteins. As the size of the charge varies according to the protein's chemical structure, when an electrical charge was passed through a solution, proteins with a greater positive charge migrated towards the positive pole more rapidly. As with the ultracentrifuge this allowed the separation of different proteins in blood plasma and the diagnosis and monitoring of conditions in which the ratios of the blood plasma proteins were abnormal. These techniques contributed to general understanding of the part the proteins played in biological activity, the importance of fibrinogen in blood clotting, the role of gamma globulin in combatting infection and the role of albumin in maintaining the correct volume of blood. It also allowed for the diagnosis of medical conditions in which ratios of proteins in blood plasma were abnormal. Following this visit, in 1937 Kekwick was awarded a research grant from the Medical Research Council for electrophoretic and ultracentrifuge investigations on pathological and immune sera at the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine. He was taken on the Scientific Staff of the Lister Institute in 1940.

During the Second World War Kekwick remained at the Lister Institute undertaking experimental and production work for the Medical Research Council's Blood Transfusion Research Committee. With A.S. McFarlane he devised a process to clarify outdated blood plasma so as to render it suitable for transfusion. He was appointed Head of the Lister's Biophysics Division in 1943 and he and his team worked on methods of freeze-drying plasma and then of separating out proteins in blood plasma. At the end of the war the MRC established a Blood Products Laboratory at the Lister Institute's station at Elstree, Hertfordshire. Kekwick worked closely with this Laboratory and was an adviser but continued his own research at the Lister Institute in Chelsea. He continued working on blood plasma analysis with ultracentrifuge and electrophoretic techniques and practical improvements in blood transfusion processes. In the 1950s he developed a method of fractionating out a fibrinogen fraction rich in Factor VIII, the anti-haemophilic globulin. This lead to the first clinical use of this Factor in 1957 and the establishment of a national laboratory dedicated to plasma fractionation. Kekwick's association with University College London continued. In 1954 he was appointed Reader in Chemical Biophysics and appointed to a personal Chair in Biophysics in 1966 (Emeritus and Fellow 1971). In addition to his pioneering work in blood plasma research, Kekwick contributed to developments in this area through his service on a number of Medical Research Council committees concerned with blood transfusion, haemophilia and hypogammaglobulinaemia. He served on the Committee of the British Biophysical Society 1967-1970. Kekwick was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1966.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of Ralph Ambrose Kekwick, 1920-2002. The collection is dominated by very comprehensive documentation of Kekwick's research. Section A, Biographical, is not extensive. It includes a copy of the Royal Society biographical memoir, some material from Kekwick's education including a bound set of school reports from the Leyton County High School for Boys which indicate his early academic distinction. There is a small amount of correspondence and papers relating to scientific colleagues of Kekwick, including R.K. Cannan and C.S. Sherrington. the section concludes with a sequence of photographs from a mounted photograph of Kekwick and F.G.Young as graduates in 1929 to 1971 photographs probably from Kekwick's retirement party. Section B, Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine, presents very modest documentation of Kekwick's long association with this Institute. The bulk of the material relates to the celebrations of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Institute.

Section C, Research, is the largest in the collection. It presents comprehensive documentation of Kekwick's research over six decades, from earliest postgraduate study in 1929 right up to retirement in 1971 and beyond. The section is divided into four. There are research notebooks 1929-1971 which include early work at University College London, the periods spent in the US in 1931-1933 and working with T. Svedberg in Sweden in 1935, and wartime and ongoing postwar research. There are extensive research notes, mostly dating from the mid 1930s to the early 1970s, found in Kekwick's folders and boxfiles which may include data from ultracentrifuge and electrophoresis tests (including photographic data), notes, graphs, calculations, correspondence and drafts of publications. There are also papers and photographs of research equipment, instructional notebooks and graphs. Section D, Publications and lectures, is very patchy in its coverage. Publications material includes a few drafts of publications, inclusing two 1935 papers with R.K. Cannan and his memoirs of Sir Lana Drury for the Royal Society biographical memoir and the Dictionary of National Biography. There is also a set of Kekwick's offprints. Lectures material includes a sequence of public and invitation lectures from 1947 to the late 1960s. These report on Kekwick's work in progress and its signficance. Section E, Societies and organisations, principally documents Kekwick's association with the Medical Research Council: the largest component of the section is papers of MRC's Blood Transfusion Research Committee, on which Kekwick served from 1948 to 1978. There is also documentation of the Albumin Working Party of the World Health Organisation's International Committee for Standardisation in Haematology on which Kekwick served from 1970.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

Arranged in sections as follows: a) Biographical, 1920-2002; b) Lister Institute of Preventative Medicine, 1965-1990; c) Research, 1929-1989; d) Publications and Lectures, 1935-1995, n.d.; e) Societies and Organisations, 1948-1998.

Conditions governing access:

The papers are available subject to the usual conditions of access to Archives and Manuscripts material, after the completion of a Reader's Undertaking.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Photocopies/photographs/microfilm are supplied for private research only at the Archivist's discretion. Please note that material may be unsuitable for copying on conservation grounds, and that photographs cannot be photocopied in any circumstances. Readers are restricted to 100 photocopies in twelve months. Researchers who wish to publish material must seek copyright permission from the copyright owner.

Finding aids:

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Allied Materials

Related material:

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Copied from the Wellcome Library catalogue by Sarah Drewery.

Rules or conventions:
In compliance with ISAD (G): General International Standard Archival Description - 2nd Edition (1999); UNESCO Thesaurus, December 2001; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Jan 2009

Related Subject Search

* To search for other records with similar subjects, tick any subjects above then click "Run New Search"

Related Personal Name Search

* To search for other records with similar names, tick any names above then click "Run New Search"

Related Corporate Name Search

* To search for other records with similar names, tick any names above then click "Run New Search"