Glasgow Biochemists' Club


The first Lectureship in Physiological Chemistry was established in 1905 in the Department of Physiology. This department, extensive by the standards of the day, was in the newly constructed West Medical Block which had been funded by public subscription. D Noel Paton held the Regius Chair of Physiology, having succeeded McKendrick (ca. 1905). Paton had been superintendent of the laboratory of the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh and, in 1900, he had conducted "a study of the diet of the labouring classes". This interest in diet continued and, throughout the first two decades of the century, dietary surveys by Paton and his colleagues gave increasing prominence to the incidence of rickets and demonstrated the importance of environmental factors. Paton died on 30th September, 1928; the date which, earlier that year, he had indicated would be his retiral date. (ref: 1,96)

The University Court approved the foundation of the Lectureship in Physiological Chemistry, using income from the Dr John Grieve bequest, on the 9th Feb 1905. Edward Provan Cathcart was the first Grieve Lecturer and during his tenure of the post (1905 - 1913) he published a long series of papers, first on protein metabolism in man and, after a year in Benedict's Laboratory in Boston, U.S.A., on the energy requirements of the body. Some of this work was done with John Boyd Orr (who was appointed director of the Rowett Research Institute, Aberdeen in 1913 and to become later Lord Boyd Orr) on infantry recruits. In 1913, Cathcart went to the Chair of Physiology in the London Hospital where he combined his teaching duties with service as a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He returned to Glasgow in 1919. (ref: 1)

In 1919, two new Gardiner Chairs had been endowed and the University Court had decided to establish one in Physiological Chemistry (which was to become a separate Department of Biochemistry in 1958) and the other in Organic Chemistry. EP Cathcart was appointed to the Gardiner Chair of Physiological Chemistry (1919). He worked in close co-operation with Paton and his department for many years on their shared interest of nutrition and its relationship to human metabolism. Cathcart succeeded Paton as Regius Professor of Physiology in 1928 and retired in 1947. (ref: 1)

(Leonard Findlay was appointed as the inaugural Professor of Child Health in 1924 - thus Glasgow was the first University to appoint a Professor of Paediatrics. His research showed that dogs developed rickets if they were denied fresh air and exercise and this supplemented the epidemiological evidence obtained by the surveys conducted by Noel Paton.) (ref: 1,11)

In 1924, an anonymous donor gave 30,000 to Glasgow University for "a medical research fund, to provide at one or more of the Glasgow clinical hospitals connected with the University, for the establishment of one or more professorships or lectureships designed for the advancement of medical knowledge by means of biochemical or other special methods of scientific research". This development was apparently precipitated by the decision of the Medical Research Council in 1923 to discontinue the provision of free insulin (which had been discovered in 1921). (ref: 1)

Stephen Veitch Telfer was appointed in 1925 to the first of these Lectureships in Pathological Biochemistry - this carried with it a post of Clinical Biochemist at the Western Infirmary (the salaries were 500 and 200 respectively). He was a senior member of a team directed by Leonard Findlay, physician at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, which studied the problem of rickets in children.

In 1926, David Cuthbertson (later to become Sir David) was appointed to the second Lectureship and as Clinical Biochemist in the Royal Infirmary. In 1927, Noah Morris was appointed to the third Lectureship and as Biochemist to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children. Morris was appointed Professor of Materia Medica in 1937. (ref: 96,107,144)

Cuthbertson had completed his BSc in Science with Chemistry as principal subject and Geology and Botany as subsidiary subjects in 1921 - there were no honours degrees in those days. He completed his MB, ChB in 1926, during which time he continued the work he had started during his science degree course on the nature and significance of phosphorus compounds in muscle. His researches were conducted at night and during vacations and Cuthbertson published his first paper on this topic in the Biochemical Journal before he had actually graduated in Medicine. He remained at Glasgow Royal Infirmary from 1926 to 1934. He graduated DSc in 1931 and MD in 1937. (ref: 11,54)

In 1925, five BSc students decided to take Physiology as their science subject. So important were they that, when the examination results were published in the Glasgow Herald, only those for the medical students appeared as the professor had forgotten to send the science students' results to the Registrar. One of these students was Olive Peden who graduated in 1929 and worked at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children from 1931 to 1972. She recalled having difficulty with the subject of physiology, having gleaned her knowledge of Anatomy solely from Zoology. This was not made easier by Noel Paton's habit of covering the lecture board with hundreds of drawings and then wiping it clean with a duster before anyone could take notes. (ref: 7)

Andrew Hunter succeeded Cathcart in the Gardiner Chair of Physiological Chemistry in 1929. Hunter, an Edinburgh graduate (MA 1895, BSc honours 1899, MB, ChB honours 1901), had been Professor of Pathological Chemistry (1915 to 1919/20) and Professor of Biochemistry (1919 to 1929) at Toronto University, Canada. He returned to the Chair of Pathological Chemistry in Toronto in 1935 and retired in 1947. In retirement, he was a Research Associate in the Research Institute of the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children and finally retired on his ninetieth birthday in 1966. He died in 1969. (ref: 1,11,100)

J Wilson Chambers, who had graduated with first class honours in Chemistry (Inorganic) (1931), was appointed as Assistant Lecturer in Physiological Chemistry in 1931. He held a Robert Donaldson scholarship in Chemistry (1931/2) and a Faulds Fellowship in Physiology (1932/4). During this period, he took the honours examination in Physiological Chemistry, graduating with first class honours in 1934. (ref: 8,118)

From 1937 to 1940, Chambers studied full time for the clinical work of the MB, ChB, graduating with honours in 1940, with the Brunton Memorial prize for most distinguished graduate in Medicine for the year. He was appointed as Lecturer in Physiological Chemistry in 1940 and served as Lieutenant and Captain in the R.A.M.C. (T.A.) Glas. Univ. Senior Training Corps (1941 to 1946). In 1946 he transferred to a Lectureship in Materia Medica and Therapeutics (travelling between Gilmorehill, the Royal Infirmary and Stobhill Hospital. In 1949 he was appointed as the first Consultant in the Biochemistry Department at Stobhill Hospital and as Senior Lecturer in Pathological Biochemistry. He continued clinical teaching at Stobhill until he retired in 1975. He died in 1990. (ref: 8,118)

In 1934, George Wishart was appointed as Senior Lecturer in Physiological Chemistry, vacating the Grieve Lectureship. The following year (1935), he succeeded Andrew Hunter as the Gardiner Professor of Physiological Chemistry and retired from this post in 1947 to become Director of Postgraduate Medical Education and Professor of Applied Physiology.(ref: 1)

David Cuthbertson, who had been the Lecturer in Pathological Biochemistry and Clinical Biochemist in the Glasgow Royal Infirmary since 1926, succeeded Wishart as the Grieve Lectureship in Physiological Chemistry in 1934 (Cathcart advised him that he needed more experience in teaching than the hospital post could offer).

Cuthbertson continued researches into shock, started at the Royal Infirmary, and in 1941 developed an improved treatment for burns. This work was undertaken in collaboration with Mr Alfred M Clark who was in charge of the burns ward at the Royal Infirmary; Clark's designation in the GRI annual report was "Surgeon", i.e. "Chief". Clark did not like the prevailing tannic acid treatment of burns as the resulting encrustment acted like armour plating. The edges, or where the encrustment broke, were often the site of maggot infestation in hot weather. Cuthbertson obtained a non-sticky emollient dressing from Professor JP Todd, Professor of Pharmacy at the Royal Technical College. This was a sulphanilamide in a base of lannette wax, cod liver oil and water. The results of early tests were very promising and support for further work was sought from the Medical Research Council. An MRC Burns Unit, directed by Dr Leonard Colebrook, a Bacteriologist, was established at Glasgow Royal Infirmary. The Unit moved to Birmingham in 1943. The resulting joint project led to the development of M.R.C. cream number 9 (in which the cod liver oil was replaced by castor oil and, later, sulphathiazole replaced the soluble sulphanilamide as it was found that the latter was being absorbed). This was became the principal treatment of burns at that stage of World War II.

Eugenia Semeonoff, who had worked part time in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary (from 1926 to 1929) while studying for a science degree, and who, as Mrs Creegan, was appointed in the laboratory at Stobhill in 1957, was appointed to the Burns Unit from 1943 to 1945. AB Anderson, Consultant Biochemist at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, gave her advice on the biochemical investigations which she performed - such as the measurement of blood sulphonamide levels and protein and total nitrogen measurements on material soaked off the dressings taken from burns patients.

Cuthbertson was seconded to the Administrative Headquarters of the M.R.C. from 1943 to 1945. For a short period, Cuthbertson was asked to advise the Department of Public Health and Welfare of Newfoundland on practical steps to be taken to improve the nutritional state of the islanders. This advice was followed for the next 30 years until the economy had so improved as to allow a free choice of food for most people. Cuthbertson was appointed as Director of the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen from 1945 to 1965. On his retiral, he returned to Glasgow as Honorary Senior Research Fellow and Honorary Consultant, posts from which he retired in 1986. He died in 1989. (ref: 11,49,54,96,110)

Sir Hector Hetherington was appointed Principal of the University in 1936 and in that year three professors of the medical faculty had retired: Ralph Stockman (Materia Medica: part time since 1897), Sir Robert Muir (Pathology since 1899) and TK Monro (Practice of Medicine: part time since 1913). Hetherington persuaded the Court to consider full-time professors. Earlier that year the Faculty had advertised the Chair of the Practice of Medicine as a part-time post but had not made any appointment. The university had been advised that no suitable candidate was likely to accept because of the lack of, among other things, laboratory support. Funds were made available for a new building at the Western Infirmary and John (later Sir John) W McNee was appointed with the promise of the new research department and the right to very limited private practice.

Sir Frederick Gardiner donated 10,000 and a similar sum came from the trustees of his late brother WG Gardiner. The Gardiner Institute was opened by Lady Gardiner in 1938 and cost just under 25,000 by the time of its completion in 1941. (Ref: 144)

While Hetherington's predecessor, Sir Robert S Rait, was still Principal, the Court had discussed the possibility of allowing the Chair of Materia Medica to lapse, as the subject was somewhat empirical. It was agreed that this might harm the reputation of the medical school and the decision was taken to appoint a full-time medical scientist. Noah Morris was appointed in 1937 and he applied biochemistry to clinical medical and brought a scientific approach to Materia Medica. By the time Hetherington retired in 1961, all but two medical chairs had been made full-time posts. These last two, Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Ophthalmology, became full-time in 1964. (Ref: 144)

In 1947 George Wishart considered that "Physiological Biochemistry" should be a discipline in its own right and proposed that he should make way for a suitable biochemist. Sir Hector Hetherington, the Principal of Glasgow University, was eager that the university teaching hospitals should help the National Health Service, due to begin the following year, to upgrade the peripheral hospitals. Hetherington arranged for Wishart to retain his professorial status by becoming Professor of Applied Physiology, without a department, and to become the Director of Postgraduate Medical Education. (The appointments committee, which included Sir Charles Illingworth, had met on two occasions to consider 15 applications for the Directorship. Although Wishart had not applied for the post, it had been agreed unanimously that he was the most appropriate person. This decision was endorsed by the University Court in April and Wishart accepted the post in May 1947.) In this role, Wishart was instrumental in bringing the faculty of medicine into effective co-operation with the Regional Hospital Board. Wishart died in 1958. (ref: 69,96)

J. Norman Davidson succeeded Wishart in the Chair of Physiological Chemistry. Davidson had graduated in Edinburgh in both Chemistry and Medicine. It was said by a fellow student that Davidson took a medical degree so that he should be better equipped to study biochemistry, whereas most of his contemporaries regarded biochemistry as an adjunct to medicine.

He had his department renamed Biochemistry in 1958 and separated it from Physiology. The department expanded from being one of the smallest in the University until, by the mid-1960s, it was one of the largest.

Davidson encouraged medical biochemists to do an honours BSc during their undergraduate training and to gain a PhD prior to being appointed to senior hospital posts. Clinical Biochemists who did a PhD in the department in Davidson's time include Adam Fleck, Sam C Frazer, Ralph Henderson, Andrew P Kenny, Ian Leggate, Alan Shenkin, James Shepherd, Michael J Stewart and Bill ST Thomson. (HM Keir, Professor of Biochemistry, Aberdeen University, also did his PhD in Davidson's department.) Davidson's personal interest was the biochemistry of nucleic acids. In his department, Hamish Munro, who later moved to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, demonstrated the first in-vitro synthesis of a protein using poly-U and transfer-RNA. (Munro was elected as an Honorary Member of the A.C.B. in 1992 and died in 1994.) Davidson died on 11th September 1972. (ref: 1,63,76,96, 148)

Sam C Frazer (Professor in Chemical Pathology in Aberdeen from 1962 to 1983) lectured in General and Clinical Biochemistry from 1950 to 1956. He had been a Unit Medical Officer in the R.A.F. from 1945 to 1947 and had returned to Glasgow to take an honours BSc in Biochemistry in 1947 (wartime restrictions prevented his combining the biochemistry course with his medical studies in 1939). He left to take up a Lectureship in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in 1956. (ref: 10)

H Gemmell Morgan was appointed to the newly established Chair of Pathological Biochemistry in 1965. He was based at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children at the time and moved to the Royal Infirmary in 1966. It was said that the appointments committee, behind closed doors, recognised in him a firebrand whose selection was "risky, but well worth making". He retired in 1988 and died in 2006. (ref: 1,96, 185)

RMS Smellie was appointed to the newly established second (Cathcart) Chair of Biochemistry in 1966. He was appointed as head of department, in succession to JN Davidson, in 1972 and he died in 1988. (ref: 1,96)

AR Williamson was appointed to the second Chair of Biochemistry in 1974. (ref: 1,96)

Miles Housley was appointed to the Chair of Biochemistry ca. 1988.

(Tom A Douglas, who later became Professor of Veterinary Biochemistry in Glasgow University, joined the A.C.B. in 1960.)

(Kenneth C Calman, who became Chief Medical Officer in the Department of Health, London, after being Professor in Oncolocy and then in General Practice, graduated in biochemistry in 1964, did his PhD on steroids in Glasgow in 1970 and then graduated MBChB in 1967 and MD in 1973.)

(Lionel Naftalin took up the post of Honorary Research Fellow at Strathclyde University in 1979 in the Department of Bioscience, following his retirement as an NHS consultant in Lincoln. Lionel's principal research focused on hearing - cochlea and cochlear functioning. During his time at Strathclyde, he continued to make progress in the field. He set up a cross-university, cross-faculty, multidisciplinary collaboration of Scottish academics, which disproved the effectiveness of an American computer-based intervention, alleged to help speech impaired children. He retired from the University in April 2010 and died in March 2011 at the age of 96.) (ref: 194)

Glasgow - Royal Hospital for Sick Children

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(Last up-dated October 2013)