From Edmonton, Alberta and winner of the Mason Gold Medal, John Bell attended Ridley from 1966 to 1971. He graduated from the University of Alberta in 1975 and then studied medicine on a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford University. In 1982, he took up a position as Clinical Fellow in Immunology with Hugh McDevitt at Stanford University, California, USA, where he worked on histocompatibility antigens and autoimmune disease.
In 1987, John returned to Oxford as a Wellcome Trust Senior Clinical Fellow, and joined the Institute of Molecular Medicine, founded by David Weatherall. In 1992, he succeeded Weatherall as the Nuffield Professor of Clinical Medicine and, in 2002, became the Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford. In 1994, he was one of the founders of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at Oxford University. He is an Emeritus Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford and a student of Christ Church College.
John’s research has identified genes involved in susceptibility to diabetes mellitus type 1, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. His work has been important in elucidating the interactions on the surface of the T cell involved in immune activation. He has also worked on the biomedical applications of high-throughput genomic technologies, including structural genomics and ENU mutagenesis. He has been directly involved in applying genetics in a clinical setting and helped develop the 100,000 genome project in England. He was a leading scientist in the development of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine produced in 2020 to fight Covid-19.
John was awarded an honorary D.Sc. by the University of Alberta in 2003. He was President of the Academy of Medical Sciences from 2006-2011. In 2008, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) and was knighted for services to medicine in the New Year Honours of that year. Since 2011, he has been one of two Life Sciences Champions for the UK, reporting to the Prime Minister. He was made a Knight Grand Cross (GBE) for his services to medicine, medical research and the UK life science industry in the New Year Honours in 2015.