Glasgow - Royal Infirmary - 1920s to mid 1960s

Glasgow - Royal Infirmary - mid 1960s to present

The John King Award

Glasgow Royal Infirmary - Endocrine Unit

There was great interest in endocrinology at the Royal Infirmary throughout the time that the biochemistry service was being developed. Edward McGirr, who became Professor of Medicine in 1961, was eminent for his work on the thyroid gland. The department of Medicine employed a number of biochemists who helped McGirr study fundamental aspects of thyroid function and, along with Professor J Holmes Hutchison of the department of Child Health, he elucidated the reason for goitre in the tinker ("Travelling people") families in the West of Scotland. Protein bound iodine (PBI) measurements were made by manual methods initially by McGirr's brother who became a distinguished scientist in the Department of Agriculture and who, unfortunately died at a relatively early age. Dr Elspeth Clements and Elma MacDonald were also associated with the assay of PBIs and, later, with the advent of auto-analysers, a method was established in James Eaton's department. Eric G Oastler took charge of the Endocrine Unit at that time. He was a senior physician and a highly regarded clinical endocrinologist interested in non-thyroidal conditions. (ref: 124)

Oastler had been appointed as Assistant Physician at Glasgow Royal Infirmary in 1934. He had assisted David Fyfe Anderson, later Muirhead Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, and J Shaw-Dunn, Professor of Pathology in Cuthbertson's department at that time. He had been a member of the University Department of Medicine for a period in the late 1940s and, after being a Physician in Charge at the Southern General Hospital, returned to the Royal Infirmary ca. 1955 on the retirement of Dr David Smith. He retired in 1967 and died in 1990. (ref: 124)

Dr I Provan C Murray was a junior physician in the department. He took up an appointment in Australia in 1961 and eventually became Professor of Nuclear Medicine in Prince Henry Hospital, Ranswick, New South Wales.

John A Thomson succeeded Murray in 1961 as Senior Registrar and then he succeeded Oastler as Physician in Charge of Endocrinology Section in 1968. (ref: 124)

In 1954 James K Grant, who was working in Edinburgh under Professor Marrian, was introduced by Marrian to Thomas Symington, Professor of Pathology, and Allistair Currie, Senior Lecturer in Pathology. Symington had a considerable reputation for work on the adrenal cortex and Currie was interested in the pituitary gland. For a period, Grant spent one or two days a week in the Pathology Department in Glasgow, while continuing to work in Edinburgh. (ref: 34)

Thomas Symington graduated from Glasgow University in biochemistry in 1936 and in medicine in 1941. His initial research was on the adrenal medulla with improved understanding and classification of its tumours and their functional properties, which resulted in the award of an MD with Honours in 1951. His career was interrupted by conscription into the army in 1947, where he was in charge of a pathology department at the British Military Hospital in Kuala Lumpar during the communist uprising. He was appointed to the St Mungo-Notman Chair of Pathology at Glasgow Royal Infirmary in 1954. His research aims were to integrate function with structure, for which the endocrine glands and the adrenal gland in particular were ideal models. Working with his team in the 1950 and '60s, he carried out autopsies at all hours of the day and night to minimise post-mortem changes, comparing adrenal structure in patients dying suddenly with those in patients at the end of prolonged illnesses. This led him to propose for the first time the functional zonation of the adrenal cortex. Thereafter, using new morphological and chemical techniques, an understanding of the complicated structure emerged, together with an explanation of the role of cells in different zones of the adrenal cortex with respect to the production of the various types of steroid hormones. This research opened up a new era in appreciation of adrenal diseases and he led a group of young investigators whose work based on the functional zonation of the cortex gave a new understanding and classification of the various forms of adrenocortical hyperactivity. In 1970, he took up the appointment of Director of the Institute of Cancer Research in London. He retired in 1977, was awarded a knighthood in 1978 and died in 2007. (ref: 189)

Vince J O'Donnell, from Montreal, Canada, was appointed as Lecturer in Pathological Biochemistry in 1956. He devoted his activities to assisting Symington with his work on the adrenal cortex. He returned to Canada in 1959 where he became Assistant Professor in Biochemistry at the University of British Colombia, in Vancouver. (ref: 11)

In 1960, JK Grant was invited by Symington to move to Glasgow to continue their work on the adrenal cortex. Although the Regional Board were willing to offer an appointment as Top Grade Biochemist in the Royal Infirmary (under Eaton), Grant preferred to keep his university connections, having been a Senior Lecturer in Edinburgh. Thus he was appointed as Senior Lecturer in Steroid Biochemistry to research with Symington and to teach with Professor JN Davidson at Glasgow University. The University provided a Lectureship in 1960 (to which Keith Griffiths was appointed) and a second Lectureship in 1972 (to which Graham Beastall was appointed). Two Assistant Lecturers and a total of twelve Research Assistants were supported in the Department of Steroid Biochemistry (Royal Infirmary) by the M.R.C. and the Cancer Research Campaign between 1960 and 1981. The University paid a responsibility allowance to Grant on account of his independent responsibility for staff, equipment, etc. and provided a separate library. (ref: 34)

In 1962 Symington, McGirr and Oastler suggested to the Regional Hospital Board that a West of Scotland Regional Steroid Laboratory Service be established under Grant's direction to provide a service for the measurement of steroids in body fluids of patients (at that time Alison Dinwoodie, in Eaton's department, was measuring urinary 17 oxogenic and 17 oxo-steroids and FSHs (by a mouse bio-assay) and these were the only routine steroid measurements which were available).

The new Steroid Laboratory, which for 20 years was one of five specialist labs in the UK which created Clinical Steroid Biochemistry, was housed in the top floor of the new Pathology Block and later moved to the laboratory at 106 Castle Street when this was vacated by Eaton's department which in turn had moved to temporary accommodation in McLeod Street. The Board of Management of the Royal Infirmary provided funds for a Senior Biochemist, a Basic Grade Biochemist a Senior Technician and two technicians to do the steroid assays. The Regional Health Board funded some of the equipment. The NHS department developed a range of more than 20 steroid assays using the emerging techniques of chromatography, fluorimetry and immunoassay. These were validated in both analytical and clinical terms and subject to rigorous quality control and update. They were described in 'the red book', which was perhaps the first portfolio of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for steroid hormone measurement. The immunoassay methods involved the use of radioactively labelled steroids and the M.R.C. provided funds for a liquid scintillation spectrometer. This was the first counter of this type in use in Glasgow. The department had an impressive research output, attracting research students and fellows from throughout the world. Grant continued his interest in adrenal steroids and also developed an internationally renowned team working on androgen metabolism and action in the prostate. (ref: 34, 124, 176)

The Senior Biochemists who worked in the department included Mike Bush (1962 to 64), Margaret CK Browning (1964 to 66) who was appointed as Senior Biochemist (and later as Principal Biochemist) in Dundee in 1966, Joy I Mowat (later Blair) (1966 to 68) who was later appointed to the Victoria Infirmary, Glasgow, in 1968 and as Principal Biochemist in the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Glasgow, in 1972, Peter Hall (1968 to 72), LG Shankara Rao (1972 to 77) who was appointed as Senior Biochemist at Bellshill Maternity Hospital in Lanarkshire in 1977. Mike Wallace, who started a PhD on androgens in the department in 1972, wa appointed as Senior Biochemist in 1978. He was upgraded to Principal Biochemist in 1986 (see also below). Among the Basic Grade Biochemists were Pauline Mundy, Ian R Hainsworth, from the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Glasgow, (1967 to 71) who was appointed as Principal Biochemist at Gartnavel General Hospital in 1973 and Mike S Walker (1972 to 77) who had been a Research Student at the Institute for Research on Animal Diseases, Compton, Berkshire (1971 to 72) and who left to take up an appointment with Serono Diagnostics Ltd. Dr Sheila Baird was the main scientist in the laboratory in the 1970s and Dr Rhoda Wilson in the 1980s and 90s. (ref: 34, 124, 176, 196)

When HG Morgan was appointed as Professor of Pathological Biochemistry in 1964, Symington ceased to be head of the various biochemical disciplines which had been grouped under Pathology. Symington was keen that Grant should be in independent charge of the Steroid Laboratory but Morgan was never happy about this arrangement. Grant was appointed as Reader in Steroid Chemistry in 1968. By the time he retired in 1981, he had been author or joint author of 122 papers or reviews and supervised 14 PhD stutents and assisted with the supervision of 5 others. Grant was a man of tremendous energy and vision. His enthusiasm and attention to detail encouraged all to the highest standards of professionalism, but he could be a hard task-master. He was a great communicator and a genius at teaching with no more than a piece of chalk and a blackboard. He was Editor of the Journal of Steroid Biochemistry for a long period of time and was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1980. (ref: 34, 176)

Keith Griffiths was appointed as Lecturer in the Steroid Laboratory in 1960. He had studied the techniques for micro analysis of tissue slices cut from cores of tissue a few millimetres in diameter in America. These techniques were used to study the zones of the human adrenal. Griffiths was appointed as the first Director of the Tenovus Laboratory for Cancer Research in Cardiff in 1966. He became Professor in 1968. (ref: 34)

Brian A Cooke succeeded Griffiths in 1966. He left in 1970 to take up an appointment in the Biochemistry Department in the Erasmus University in Rotterdam. Later he was appointed as Professor of Biochemistry at the Royal Free Hospital Medical School in London. (ref: 34)

Brian Cook was appointed as Lecturer in 1971 and as Senior Lecturer in 1977. He helped to develop veterinary and reproductive endocrinology and computing for radioimmuno assays. He retired in 1998 (ref: 34)

LG Shankara Rao, from the Glasgow University Department of Psychological Medicine, Southern General Hospital (1966 to 72) was appointed as Senior Biochemist in 1972. He evaluated urinary oestrogen: creatinine ratios as an index of fetoplacental function and thus reduced the need to collect 24 hour urines in Obstetrics. He was appointed as Senior Biochemist at Bellshill Maternity Hospital in Lanarkshire in 1977. He retired in 1993 and died in 2004.

Graham H Beastall was appointed as the second Lecturer in Steroid Biochemistry in 1972. He joined the Radio Immuno Assay Unit as Senior Biochemist in 1976 and was appointed as Principal Biochemist (Endocrinology) in 1979 and Top Grade Biochemist (Endocrinology) in 1981. He was a founding member of the Caledonian Society for Endocrinology. By 2009 he had published over 150 full papers on all aspects of Clinical Endocrinology with particular emphasis on parathyroid hormone / bone disease. He was awarded the Fellowship qua Physician ad eudem of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow in 2001. This honorary medical degree was in recognition of his contribution to Clinical Biochemistry, especially Endocrinology. He was awarded the ACB Foundation Award in 2002, the CBE in Queen's Birthday Honours 2007 and was elected as an Honorary Member member of the ACB in 2009. He was elected as President of the International Federation of Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine (IFCC) at their meeting at Fortaleza in Brazil in 2008 - his term of office was from 2009 to 2011. He retired in 2009. (ref: 34, 36, 155, 162)

Sir Kenneth C Calman worked as a technician for three months after he graduated in biochemistry in 1964. He graduated MB ChB in 1967, did his PhD on steroid biochemistry and skin, graduating in 1970, and then graduated MD in 1973. He became Chief Medical Officer in the Department of Health, London, after being Professor in Oncology and then in General Practice, in Glasgow University. (ref: 159)

John G Ratcliffe, who had been a Senior Registrar with Professor John Landon at St Bartholomew's Hospital in London, was appointed as Consultant responsible for the RadioImmuno Assay Unit in 1972. The Unit was housed in three portacabins outside the main (temporary) laboratory in McLeod Street. (Ratcliffe almost caused a strike by painting his own portacabin shortly after he was appointed.) The RIA Unit was transferred to accommodation in Stobhill Hospital in 1974. (The Stobhill Unit was officially opened by Professor McGirr who had been a member of the Sub-committee on Radioimmunoassay of the Standing Advisory Committee on Laboratory Services.) The Unit was later transferred to the new Biochemistry Department in the Royal Infirmary in 1977. Initially the Unit assayed peptide and protein hormones by RIA and provided as assay service for the West of Scotland.

Wendy Ratcliffe (John's wife) and Christina E Gray were the first biochemists appointed specifically to the RIA Unit, in 1972.

Wendy Ratcliffe was appointed as Senior Biochemist in 1977 until 1981.

Christina Gray was appointed as Senior Biochemist in 1978 and Principal Biochemist in 1987 and retired in 2008.

Gordon S Challand, from St Bartholomew's Hospital, London, was the first senior biochemist to be appointed (in 1973). He left to set up the East Anglia Regional Hormone Assay Service at Addenbrookes Hospital, Cambridge, under Herman Lehmann, in 1975. During his time in the RIA Unit, they developed the world's first semi-automated assays for thyroxin and tri-iodothyronine. He later became Top Grade Biochemist at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading. (ref: 158)

John Ratcliffe set up the Scottish Antibody Production Unit (SAPU) at Law Hospital, Lanarkshire, in 1974.

Carole Spencer was a Basic Grade Biochemist in the Unit from 1972 to 1975. She did her PhD with John King and later became Professor at the University of Southern California. (ref: 158)

Richard S Chapman, from Professor Ekin's Laboratory in the Middlesex Hospital, was appointed as SAPU Senior Biochemist at the RIA Unit in 1976. He was appointed as Principal Biochemist at the Hammersmith Hospital in 1991.

In 1978 Michael Wallace (AM Wallace), who had completed his PhD in the West of Scotland Regional Steroid Laboratory, returned from the Westminster Hospital to succeed L.G.S. Rao as Senior Biochemist. Wallace was upgraded to Principal Biochemist in 1986 on the basis of his special contribution to immunoassay development and neonatal screening. In 2008, as Professor Mike Wallace, he led a team which won the Scottish Health Care Science Award in recognition of achievement in healthcare improvement and became Scottish HealthcareScientist of the Year. The team's winning entry was a simple automated solid phase extraction procedure for measurement of vitamin D metabolites by LC-MS/MS. He died in 2010. (ref: 196)

In 1981 Fraser C Logue returned to the department, from Kuwait, as Senior Biochemist in charge of the National External Quality Assessment Scheme for Thyroid Hormones. Logue had been a Basic Grade Biochemist in the RIA Unit from 1974 to 1978 and succeeded W Ratcliffe as Senior Biochemist (Endocrinology) in 1981. Logue won the John King Award in 1990.

John and Wendy Ratcliffe left in 1981 when John was appointed to the Chair of Clinical Biochemistry in Manchester University (in Salford). In 1986 he was appointed to the Chair in Birmingham succeeding Professor Tom Whitehead at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. John was the Chair of the ACB Scientific Committee (1983-1985), Chair of the North West Region (1984-1985) and Regional Council representative for the West Midlands region (1987-1989). John retired in 1994 and he and Wendy moved to Pembrokeshire. He died in 2017.

In 1982, following the retiral of JK Grant and the appointment of JG Ratcliffe to Manchester University, the opportunity was taken to merge the Steroid Laboratory with the RIA Unit to form the largest Endocrinology Unit of its type in the UK. G Beastall was appointed as Top Grade Biochemist (Endocrinology) in charge of the Unit, Chapman succeeded Beastall as Principal Biochemist (Endocrinology) and Michael G McConway, from the Victoria Infirmary, Glasgow (and winner of the 1982 John King Award), succeeded Chapman as SAPU Senior Biochemist. (ref: 34, 36)

Karen Smith succeeded Michael Wallace as head of Endocrinology in 2011.

Glasgow - Belvedere, Duke Street, Royal Mat., etc

Return to Introduction / Index

Last updated November 2019