Lives of the fellows

Reginald Francis Alfred Dean

b.13 July 1907 d.2 December 1964
PhD Cantab(1951) MRCS LRCP(1943) MRCP(1953) FRCP(1963)

Few Fellows of the College can equal the record of Reginald Dean in that he did not qualify until 1943 when he was thirty-six, and that within five years from 1957 he had so ably directed research into kwashiorkor that the disease is now a rarity among the children of Uganda.

He was born at Potters Bar, Middlesex, to Arthur Snowdon Dean, a statistician, and Amy Mary, daughter of Ernest Warren. From St. George’s Preparatory School and Strode’s Foundation he went to work for ten years in the correspondence office of the chief accountant of the Bank of England; he then went up to Cambridge and qualified from St. Thomas’s Hospital, by which time he was an accomplished pianist and no mean painter.

In house posts at Addenbrooke’s Hospital he showed the makings of a devoted clinician, and in 1944 joined the department of medicine at Cambridge where he worked for two years with Professor R. A. McCance. He then went to Wuppertal with the team sponsored by the Medical Research Council to study the effects of undernutrition. Very quickly he not only grasped the essentials of a controlled experiment on a large number of people, but also showed a marked ability in administration.

As there was a desperate milk shortage Dean set himself the task of finding if plant proteins could be an effective substitute for those of milk in the diet of infants and young children, discussing his difficulties with every available expert and gaining the confidence and support of local organisations. This work, published as an M.R.C. Special Report (No. 279, 1953), brought him the Ph.D. of Cambridge.

In 1957 he had the opportunity to apply his experience on a large scale; he was invited by the M.R.C, to set up a unit for the study of infantile malnutrition at Kampala. Despite early financial and organisational difficulties and misunderstandings, he was able to find the fundamental biochemistry that explained the features of disturbance in enzyme function and amino-acid metabolism in kwashiorkor, and to apply his clinical acumen in meticulous follow-up studies of his patients.

He was, therefore, fully qualified to become chairman of the Uganda Government Advisory Committee on Human Nutrition and to direct many surveys which collated their findings with detailed information on agriculture, available foods and food habits. Soon he was asked to undertake journeys on behalf of the World Health Organization, and it was while on one in Malaya in 1955 that he contracted from a child an unknown virus that brought on an ascending paralysis from which he was never to recover. Yet he remained in full charge at Kampala till a few days before his death.

In 1932 he married Margaret Mary, daughter of Ernest Stenhouse, a biologist; they had one daughter.

Richard R Trail

[, 1964, 2, 1537; 1965, 1, 134, 323; Lancet, 1964, 2, 1301, 1399; Nature (Lond), 1965, 205, 854-5; Times, 19 Dec. 1964.]

(Volume V, page 99)

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