Robin Coombs

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Robert Royston Amos ("Robin") Coombs, (January 9 1921February 25 2006), was a British physician and 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[1]. This, his first discovery is the test now referred to as the Coombs test, which according to the legend he first devised while travelling on the train[2].

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 continued to work at Cambridge University until 1988[2].

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 a Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians.

He was married to Anne Blomfield, his first graduate student. They had a son and a daughter[2].


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[1][2][3].

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[4].

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[5]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Coombs RRA, Mourant AE, Race RR. Detection of weak and "incomplete" Rh agglutinins: a new test. Lancet 1945;246:15-6. DOI 10.1016/S0140-6736(45)90806-3.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Pincock S. Robert Royston Amos (Robin) Coombs. Lancet 2006;367:1234. DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(06)68528-0.
  3. Coombs RR. Historical note: past, present and future of the antiglobulin test. Vox Sang 1998;74:67-73. PMID 9501403.
  4. Gell PGH, Coombs RRA. Clinical Aspects of Immunology. London: Blackwell, 1963.
  5. Coombs RRA, Parish WE, Walls AF. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: Could a healthy infant succumb to inhalation-anaphylaxis during sleep leading to cot death?. Cambridge Publications Ltd, 2000. ISBN 0-9540081-0-3.

External links

de:Robert Royston Amos Coombs