Around the turn of the twentieth century, Rennie and Fraser, two Aberdeen researchers, noted that the islet tissue of certain fish was anatomically distinct from the acinar pancreas. Between 1902 and 1904, they fed diabetic patients in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary with preparations of islet tissue (mainly from the angler fish readily obtainable from the Aberdeen Fish Market). They also prepared a gland extract which was injected subcutaneously but, because of side effects, this was only given to one patient. (Rennie, J & Fraser T "The Islets of Langerhans in relation to diabetes", Biochem J 1970; 2: 7-19) Although this experiment failed, it is interesting to speculate that this "near miss" may have influenced JJR MacLeod, the son of a Perthshire minister, who had graduated in Aberdeen with M.B. in 1898.

MacLeod developed a lifelong interest in carbohydrate metabolism and diabetes. In 1902, he was appointed to the Chair of Physiology at the Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio and in 1918 he moved to the Chair of Physiology in Toronto. It was in his laboratory in Toronto in 1921 that Banting and Best discovered the hormone which they at first called isletin. On MacLeod's insistence, it was renamed "insulin"; the name given to it in 1909 by the Belgian research worker Jean de Meyer, long before the substance itself had been discovered. From 1928 to 1935, MacLeod was Regius Professor of Physiology in Aberdeen where he continued his work on carbohydrate metabolism and he was a Nobel Laureate along with Banting and Best. (ref: 1,74)

In 1906 Edward S Eadie was appointed as the first Lecturer in Physiological Chemistry. Eadie had worked with Benjamin Moore at Liverpool at a time when that university had the only Chair of Biochemistry in the United Kingdom and Moore, Eadie and JH Abram published a paper on the treatment of Diabetes Mellitus in the first issue of the Biochemistry Journal (Biochem J 1906; 1: 28) when it was founded in 1906. Eadie left in 1921 to become Professor in Capetown and was succeeded by Edgar Beard in 1922. When Beard retired in 1940, he in turn was succeeded by J Norman Davidson. (ref: 1,91)

Davidson was appointed as Lecturer in 1940 and had the name of the department changed to Biochemistry. In 1941, at the age of 30, he was elected to Fellowship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, of which Society he subsequently became President. Davidson and Miss Charity Waymouth discovered RNA in animal cells. This work was published in 1943 and 1944 and helped "explode" the myth that DNA was the nucleic acid of animal cells and RNA the nucleic acid of plant cells. Davidson left Aberdeen in 1945 and, after a short period with the M.R.C. at Mill Hill and as Professor of Biochemistry at St Thomas's Hospital Medical School in London, he held the Chair of Biochemistry at Glasgow University from 1947 until his death in 1972. (ref: 1,92)

Edward B Hendry, who had been assistant to CP Stewart in Edinburgh in the 1930s and again in the 1940s, succeeded Davidson as Lecturer from 1945 to 1946. He was Senior Lecturer at Glasgow University and Honorary Consultant at Glasgow Western Infirmary from 1951 to 1973. He was succeeded by Cyril Long, who was appointed to the Chair of Biochemistry at the Royal College of Surgeons in Lincoln's Field, London, in 1964. (ref: 92)

In 1947, the MacLeod-Smith Chair of Biological Chemistry was founded by bequests of Professor JJR MacLeod and Dr George Smith. Although MacLeod's will specifically mentioned the founding of a "Professorial Chair in Biochemistry", the University used the term Biological Chemistry.

In 1948, William Ogilvy Kermack, who had spent 27 years in the Laboratory of the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh, was appointed to the MacLeod-Smith Chair. His interests included carbohydrate metabolism and antimalarial drugs. He retired in 1968 and was succeeded by Hamish M Keir. Keir had the name of the department changed back to Biochemistry in 1969. (ref: 1, 92)

The Rowett Research Institute

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Last updated September 2008