Glasgow - University

Glasgow Biochemists' Club


The Glasgow Children's Hospital opened in 1883 in a large private house in Scott Street in the middle of a slum area. It was purchased for 12,510 and provided 59 cots. It became the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in 1889 and in its early years its surgeons were the dominant influence. A further 10 beds were opened in 1887.

A purpose-designed "dispensary" was opened in West Graham Street in 1888. More than 780,000 children had been treated there by the time the dispensary closed in 1955. Professor (then Dr) John MA Lenihan's Department of Clinical Physics and Bioengineering moved into the vacated West Graham Street premises. Lenihan was not medically qualified. On leaving the building one evening he was accosted by a "wee Glasgow wifie", nursing a child in her arms, with the demand, "This wean needs his tonsils out". Lenihan explained patiently that the place was no longer a hospital and the operation could not be done there. A wearisome argument ensued and after much persuasion she was nearly convinced and was about to leave when a colleague of Lenihan came out of the building and called "Good night, Doctor". Of course, the whole thing started again - this time much more insistent and vociferous than before - till, at last, the exasperated Lenihan managed to escape with the exclamation, "one more word, Madam, and I'll take out his tonsils and then we'll both be sorry!". (ref: 135, 180)

In 1914 the new three storey "Yorkhill" Hospital opened with 312 cots, two theatres and laboratories. Part of the hospital was used for WWI military casualties until 1919. The first permanent Chair in children's diseases in Britain was created in RHSC, Glasgow. (ref: 180)

In 1927, Noah Morris, who had been a General Practitioner in Glasgow in the 1920s, had been appointed as Lecturer in Biochemistry, Glasgow University and Biochemist to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children. He set up a laboratory assisted by a "lab boy", Alex McCutcheon. In 1933 Morris co-authored the book "Acidosis and Alkalosis" with Stanley Graham, Leonard Gow Lecturer on the Medical Diseases in Infancy and Childhood. This was a classic text, bridging the gap between Van Slyke's work and the clinical scene, in much the same way as CP Stewart and Dunlop (Edinburgh) did for clinical chemistry in general. (ref: 7,8,11,32,66,107)

In 1931 Olive Peden joined Morris bringing the strength of the department up to three. Throughout the years, doctors studying for higher degrees joined the department doing practical biochemistry arranged and supervised by Dr Morris and his successors. In 1925, Peden had been one of a group of five BSc students who had decided to take Physiology as their science subject. She had graduated in 1929 and worked in the Animal Breeding Research Department in Edinburgh for two years. When the grants were stopped, a common occurrence during the "Depression", she, along with about 80% of the research student were "out on their necks". As her parents knew Morris, he suggested that she come to his laboratory and her first six months were as an unpaid volunteer. Peden found Morris to be one of the most brilliant and, at the same time, stimulating people she ever met. After her first six months, Peden received a Muirhead Research Fellowship of 50 or 100 per year. This was renewed for two further one year periods during which time she worked mostly on the so-called "Glasgow Disease" - rickets - measuring calcium, phosphate and alkaline phosphatase. She received another grant before finally being taken onto the full-time staff as "assistant". At that time, the laboratory was kitchen sized and it, together with the consultant's room, was about the size of a large sitting room. The laboratory itself was divided in two by a wide bench with shelves almost to the roof, and small sinks. In a hot summer, the heat was intense because doors had to be kept close to prevent a through draft blowing out the Bunsen burners. A large electric hot plate was usually on 24 hours a day evaporating material in huge flattish bowls. The most complex piece of equipment was the Van Slyke apparatus for carbon dioxide assay. (This same piece of mercury-leaking apparatus was still in use about 30 years later.) 90% of the assays were performed with a Duboscq visual colorimeter. These assays included sugars (Folin & Wu), non-protein nitrogen and protein (acid digestion followed by Nesslerization) and urea. The other equipment included a Zeiss dipping refractometer for proteins and a photometer (possibly a Hilger Spekker). The photometer was kept in a little dark-room. The cholesterol method in use at the time involved an extraction step with chloroform and the combination of the fumes and the cramped space could lead to a feeling of being dazed. As the work load was increasing all the time and an increasing number of medical staff required research space for their studies for higher degrees, the staff was increased and the laboratory was considerably enlarged in the 1930s by taking in and roofing a wind-swept patio. The photometer was replaced by a Hilger UVISPEK in the 1950s. (ref: 7, 174)

In the 1930s, coeliac disease was almost endemic. The faeces from these patients were dried for days on a huge hot plate (which was on day and night, month in, month out), ground down and extracted with ether/pet. ether mixture for analysis. This, together with the absence of fume cupboards, gave the tiny lab a perpetual powerful smell. The staple diet for coeliac patients was bananas (as the benefits of a gluten-free diet were not yet known) and, during the war, sailors brought in bananas especially for these children.

Also in the 1930s, meningitis was a major problem. The death rate from TB meningitis was 100% and from non-TB meningitis about 90%. The laboratory was involved in the measurement of sulphonamides (e.g. Prontosil, M&B 693 - sulphapyridine) when they were introduced for the treatment of meningitis. Non-tubercular meningitis responded well to this treatment. Later penicillin estimations were performed in the Bacteriology Department and the Royal Hospital for Sick Children was among the hospitals chosen to pioneer the work in treating the resistant TBM with streptomycin. The laboratory measured C.S.F. sugar, chloride (by precipitation with silver nitrate and titration with thiocyanate), protein and non-protein nitrogen for each case through out these drug trials. (ref: 7, 174)

Noah Morris was appointed to the Chair of Materia Medica in 1937. However, due to anti-Jewish prejudice, the Western Infirmary refused to give him charge of the beds held by his predecessor and, therefore, medical beds were provided at Stobhill General Hospital for his Unit. Peden remembered Morris as "one of the most dynamic men I have ever met. He was also one of the most just". When Peden had carried out a considerable amount of practical work in collaboration with an itinerant doctor, Morris had her name moved from a footnote to the status of joint author when the work was published. Morris died of cancer in 1947 and, at his funeral service, the chapel was full to overflowing with students of all denominations "paying tribute to a very great Jew". (ref: 7,8,11,32,66,107, 174)

Dr H Ellis C Wilson was appointed as Consultant in succession to Noah Morris in 1938. He was a quiet, reserved person. Previously he had undertaken research on nutritional problems in India, sometimes using himself as a guinea pig, such as existing for days on a diet of olive oil and tapioca. In the Royal Hospital for Sick Children he pioneered much of the chromatography work - paper chromatograms run in wooden chambers. This work filled the laboratory with the penetrating smells of collidine and phenol. He also introduced electrophoretic separation of proteins when this was still a novel technique. As many of the patients had nephrotic syndrome (secondary to rickets), hundreds of fractional proteins were assayed. Fortunately the laboratory had been one of the first to obtain a Hilger UVISPEK in the 1950s and this had made these estimations much easier. The UVISPEK had fused glass cuvettes costing 5 each and so a thick coconut mat was laid on the floor in front of the bench to reduce breakages. Peden was astonished to hear from the service engineer that a similar instrument was in use at a nuclear research establishment and the cells were considered as semi-disposable because it was cheaper to replace them than to decontaminate them. The acquisition of this spectrophotometer widened the scope of investigations available to include the estimation of copper (in Wilson's Disease) and vitamin A and carotene assays. Ellis retired in 1963 and enjoyed an active retirement, taking regular climbing holidays in Switzerland while in his 80s. He died in 1987. (ref: 7, 174)

Some months before the start of World War II, Dr Suttie, the Medical Superintendent, asked Peden to make an inventory of all the chemicals those which might be needed in the future. The laboratory didn't run out of any of these supplies during the war. In 1940 HMS Sussex was bombed and sunk in the Clyde not far from the hospital and an emergency evacuation took place. On another occasion, the patients and most of the staff were evacuated because a bomb had landed on the quay near the hospital, bounced over the luxury ship the "Windsor Castle" and landed unexploded in the open hatch of a battleship which was preparing to put to sea. Peden's war time duties included testing gas masks and staffing the First Aid Post. Towards the end of the war, Peden found that she was getting unexpectedly high values for serum calcium. Every solution and piece of apparatus was checked. Standards were sent to colleagues in other hospitals to check that the method, permanganate titration, was correct. It was only several years later that it was found that the hypercalcaemia was caused by over fortification with vitamin D of the dried milk supplied for babies. (ref: 7, 174, 180)

In 1951 a children's kidney disease unit was established; the first in Britain. (ref: 180)

During the 1947 Polio Epidemic, Peden had been left on her own while Morris and the technician took annual leave. The number of estimations (most of them done by Peden for the first time) became so numerous that she had declare a moratorium. (The swimmer, Nancy Riach, died in the epidemic.) (ref: 174)

In 1964 a new maternity hospital, The Queen Mother's Hospital, opened linked to the RHSC by a first floor link corridor which gave access to the newborn unit. (ref: 180)

H Gemmell Morgan, from Dundee, succeeded Ellis Wilson as Consultant in 1965. His stay was "electric but brief" during which time the department acquired much new equipment. A month after Morgan took up his post, the entire hospital was condemned. Serious structural defects appeared in the main hospital building. Steel beams were rusting through and the building was in a state of "potential avalanche" and all of it was demolished with the exception of a new theatre suite. The laboratory was the last building to be demolished and was left in an attic perched on the top of one corner of the building (like being in a lighthouse) with the lifts permanently cut off and with devastation all around. The hospital had been transferred to Oakbank Hospital, a 180 bedded unit some three miles away, where a hot laboratory was established. Specimens were transferred from Oakbank to Yorkhill by tram. Ca. 1966 the Biochemistry department was moved into the theatre suite. The access was by an open iron spiral staircase. Olive Peden, who had acquired two artificial hip joints in 1951, recalled that climbing the stairs with two sticks, over that three year period, was not easy. The new laboratory building was completed in 1968 and the new hospital opened ca. 1971. (ref: 7, 107, 180)

Morgan was appointed to the new Chair of Pathological Biochemistry in 1965 and he transferred to the Royal Infirmary after the death of James Eaton in 1966. He continued to be responsible for the R.H.S.C. department until May 1967. (ref: 7, 148)

Robert W Logan was appointed as Senior Lecturer and Honorary Consultant in 1967. He had been the Consultant in Dumfries Royal Infirmary from 1966 to 1967 and, prior to that, Senior Registrar at Glasgow Royal Infirmary (1964 - 1965) and S.H.O. and Registrar at Glasgow Victoria Infirmary (1959 - 1964). Around this time, the department moved into new purpose-built premises. Logan developed the first automated system for urinary oestriol measurement in Scotland and published the first account of the use of oestrogen / creatinine ratios from random urine samples in monitoring and prediction of ovulation. From 1980 to 1984 his remit was extended to include administrative charge of the Department of Biochemistry at the Glasgow Western Infirmary and Gartnavel General Hospital. During this period the biochemistry services in the Western District of Glasgow were rationalised. In the 1980s Logan visited Oman to help develop laboratory services. Logan retired in 1998. (ref: 7,82, 173)

The Queen Mother Maternity Hospital was opened adjacent to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in 1964. This added a new field of work - adult biochemistry - to what had been mostly confined to children. Also, there was a considerable amount of work done on the new-born. In 1968 a Geriatric Unit was opened at Drumchapel and the specimens were sent to the R.H.S.C. laboratory. The first that the staff knew of this development was when it was noticed that the age on one of the request forms was 76. (ref: 7)

Olive Peden retired in 1972. It was only when she retired she discovered that she had never had a contract. The conditions of service were "the efficient presentation of work" and she had been working 25 years before discovering that the Hospital Board would pay petrol expenses if she came back out-of-hours to do emergency work. Having started as the third member in the department in 1931, she retired from a department with 36 members of staff. She died in the early 1990s. (ref: 7, 174)

Other staff who were appointed in the 1950s and 1960s include Ursula Cleland (later Brown), Jean Fleming and Dr Patricia A Hughes (later Worthington). Ian R Hainsworth, who was appointed as Senior Biochemist at the Regional Steroid Laboratory (1967 to 71), Principal at Gartnavel General Hospital (1971 to 83) and Top Grade in Swansea in 1983.

Joy I Blair (nee Mowat), who had been a Senior Biochemist at The West of Scotland Regional Steroid Laboratory at Glasgow Royal Infirmary (1966 to 1968) and at the Victoria Infirmary (1968 to 1972) was appointed as Principal Biochemist in 1972. She (and Ian Leggate) was one of the first scientists to obtain the MRCPath in 1971). She wished to work part-time and another Principal post was created. Blair retired in 1990.

Margaret D Connell (later, in 1982, Rae), was appointed to the new Principal Biochemist post in 1973.

In the 1970s, the assays for urinary oestriols (used for monitoring pregnant and non-pregnant women) were being automated. W Philip Barnard wrote his PhD on urinary oestriols and later he was appointed as Senior Biochemist in Poole in 1974 and Principal Biochemist in Swansea in 1976. These methods were later superseded by ultrasonic scanning techniques for monitoring pregnancy and major developments in monitoring ovulation induction. The department had a Technicon SMA 12 Micro Analyser which performed 12 tests on 200 L of serum but it could take half the morning to calibrate and "synchronise" the phasing coils and quarter speed pumps. Assays for the investigation of inherited metabolic diseases were being developed and the department had an automated quantitative amino acid analyser, urinary glycosaminoglycan quantification and identification and had developed a range of cellular enzyme assays to diagnose lysosomal (and other) disorders. Later (1980s), GC-MS was developed for urinary organic acid analysis. Methods were developed for assessing foetal lung maturation in association with Martin Whittle in the Queen Mother's Hospital. Several papers were published (by Logan, Paton, Farquharson and Jamieson) culminating in the development of an enzymatic method for phosphatidyl glycerol. (ref: 173)

Margaret D Rae (nee Connell) was graded as a Top Grade Biochemist in 1989/90 and assumed the role of head of department when Robert Logan retired. She retired in 2003.

Other staff who were appointed in the 1970s include E Aitchison (1978 - 81) who later took up a post in Paisley, J Farquharson, Ken Fitzpatrick, who came from Edinburgh in 1977 and retired in 1990, Gordon MacPhee (1975), Alan Pettigrew who went to the Western / Gartnavel in 1980, Robert Paton who was appointed ca. 1971 and retired in 2002, Rudi B Sing who came from Glasgow Royal Infirmary in 1976, Janet Warren (1972) who went to Glasgow Royal Infirmary in 1984.

Cherry Jamieson was appointed in 1971 and gained a PhD in 1998 on the work undertaken in the study of brain lipids and dietary intake in infants.

Other staff who were appointed in the 1980s include Esther Berry who moved to Medical Genetics, Peter Berry (1980 - 84), who was appointed as Senior (and later Principal Biochemist) at Monklands Hospital in 1984, Roger F Buchanan (1984) who went to work at Quintiles, Sean F O'B Donaghey, who came in 1982 from Kidderminster, Birmingham (1978-82) and retired in 1996, J Hamilton, who came from Kingston upon Thames in 1985, AI McGillivray and F McMillan, who moved to Sheffield in 1985.

Sue Bonham Carter, who had worked at Strathclyde University on acyl glycines was appointed in 1996.

Tom McCambridge, latterly Biomedical Scientist 4, who had been appointed in 1953, retired in 1997. In the mid-80s, he spent a period on secondment in Oman helping develop laboratory services, at a time when there were close links with Glasgow University. (ref: 173)

The original building, which was new in 1968, has changed over the years. In the mid 19970s, the expansion of genetics saw the Duncan Guthrie Institute of Medical Genetics built on the west end and later haematology expansion saw further building at the east end. Pressures in Glasgow in 1997/98 saw the incorporation of Microbiology and much of Pathology (which had occupied a pre-1939 building to the north of the main hospital prior to this move) into what had previously been called the south laboratory block (built in 1968). (ref: 173)

By the mid 1990s it was clear that further sophisticated instrumentation was necessary to keep up with progress in inherited metabolic disease and eventually (mid 2001) a tandem mass spectrophotometer (the first in an NHS lab in Scotland) was obtained from charitable funds of the Yorkhill Children's Foundation. (ref: 173)

Peter Galloway, who had spent time in the department as an SpR, returned on Logan's retiral to do several locums prior to being appointed consultant (with sessions in North Glasgow Trust) in July 2000. (ref: 173) (ref: 173)

John Fyffe was appointed Top Grade Biochemist in 2003. Fyffe went from Ninewells Hospital, Dundee, to the Edinburgh Western Infirmary in 1974, took an appointment in Glasgow Royal Infirmary Department of Medicine in 1978 and the Glasgow Royal Hospital for Sick Children in 1981. He was appointed Principal and then Top Grade Biochemist in Welwyn Garden City in the 1980s. He retired in 2009 and died in 2010.

Jennifer Lochrie, from the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow, won the John King Award in 2008 with a paper entitled "LS-MS/MS method development for the diagnostic screening of creatine transporter deficiency". She was appointed to a part-time Principal post at Hairmyres in 2013.

Catherine A Dorrian, who was the winner of the 1996 John King Award with a paper titled "Enzyme Immunoassays: Problems with antibody interference" and who had been appointed as a part-time Senior Biochemist at Hairmyres Hospital, Lanarkshire, in 2008 was appointed as Top Grade in 2010, taking up her appointment in 2011.


When Professor James Holmes Hutchison retired from the Chair of Child Health in 1977, he was succeeded by Professor Forrester Cockburn in the September of that year. Cockburn was a Senior Lecture and Honorary Consultant in the University of Edinburgh and had a special interest in foetal and neonatal nutrition and medicine. He quickly developed his biochemical interests in collaboration with the Biochemistry Department and studies were undertaken to determine the effect on infant growth on the amount of copper and zinc in various milk formulae and papers were published detailing the results and the occurrence of copper deficiency in preterm infants of very low birth weight. Through collaboration between the neonatal physicians and surgeons in the Queen Mother's Hospital and the R.H.S.C. and Prof. Gordon Fell, Glasgow Royal Infirmary, a series of studies of trace mineral and vitamin requirements of new-born infants and children receiving parenteral nutrition were conducted. Cockburn also stimulated collaboration between Dr Matthew Dunnigan, Stobhill General Hospital, and Prof. Jim Shepherd, Glasgow Royal Infirmary, into a possible relationship between ultraviolet light, vitamin D and ischaemic heart disease.

With the realisation of the importance for the foetus of strict dietary control of phenylketonuria prior to a pregnancy occurring and the need for continuing, frequent monitoring of blood phenylalanine and tyrosine concentrations during pregnancy, it became necessary to develop a method for determining the plasma concentration of phenylalanine and tyrosine using blood spots from Guthrie cards. This method has also been used along with the neurotransmitter measurement to ascertain the effects of dietary control in adult PKU patients and on the occurrence of cerebral demyelination.

In conjunction with Dr Logan, Dr Farquharson and Miss Jamieson of the Biochemistry Dept., Cockburn initiated an investigation into the composition of cerebral lipids in infants dying from cot death and determined the relationship of these lipids to dietary fat intake. They also investigated the possible occurrence of medium chain acyl CoA dehydrogenase deficiency and its reported association with cot death. To facilitate this study, a highly sensitive GC-Mass Spectrometer method for measurement of acyl glycines in urine and plasma was developed by the Department of Pharmacy of Strathclyde University and this allowed the detection of several disorders of fatty acid metabolism. They also developed specific methods for amniotic fluid phosphatidyl glycerol and phosphatidyl choline. (ref: 125)

Glasgow - Royal Infirmary - 1920s to mid 1960s

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Last updated December 2013