Approaching his 50th year of research, he has become what his friend and former UVA colleague Dr. Martin Chapman calls “a living legend” and “the most insightful clinical investigator of allergic diseases of his generation.” Among other honors, he is the first allergist to become a fellow of the Royal Society, the United Kingdom’s national academy of science and the oldest scientific academy in the world. He has twice received a merit award from the National Institutes of Health for his work.
Platts-Mills’ most recent acclaim has come from his now-famous discovery, beginning about a decade ago, of a red meat allergy caused by tick bites, leading to hives, anaphylaxis and possibly heart disease. Since his article on the allergy was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, it has been cited more than 1,000 times and has been the subject of media attention across the globe.
His earlier work on dust mite allergens was also pivotal, shedding light on the association between mite allergies and asthma and highlighting early‐life allergen exposure as a risk factor for allergic diseases. That work has helped doctors and patients around the world better understand asthma and its causes.
Chapman, who worked at UVA from 1984 to 2001 and is now president and CEO of Charlottesville-based Indoor Biotechnologies, attributes much of Platts-Mills’ success to his “methodical approach” and fearlessness.
“That has certainly been a feature of his work – to not be afraid to put yourself out there and investigate an idea somebody else might reject instantly,” he said.
While Platts-Mills credits his grandmother with guiding him to medicine, his father’s influence profoundly shaped how he approaches his work and the world.
John Platts-Mills was a strident socialist who worked as a criminal lawyer, a coal miner and, finally, a member of Parliament. A Labour Party member occasionally ostracized for perceived communist sympathies, he was elected to Parliament in 1945, ousted in 1950, and went on to establish himself as one of Britain’s top criminal barristers, representing high-profile clients like notorious gangsters the Kray twins and the Great Train Robbers.
Platts-Mills recalls those roller coaster years as being formative in his own outlook.
“If we thought ‘B’ and the rest of the world thought ‘A,’ that was formal proof that ‘B’ was correct,” he said. “When we saw crazy things – when we saw things that didn’t make any sense – that was a reason to be interested, not to be afraid of it.”