Lives of the fellows

Roderic Alfred Gregory

b.29 December 1913 d.5 September 1990
CBE(1971) FRS(1965) BSc London(1934) MSc(1938) DSc(1949) PhD Chicago(1942) Hon DSc(1966) *FRCP(1977)

Rod Gregory was born in London, the only child of Alfred Gregory, a motor mechanic. His undergraduate career began at University College London, where in 1934 he obtained his BSc in physiology with first class honours. He remained there for four years, working with Charles Lovatt Evans [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI, p.166] on carbohydrate metabolism whilst at the same time completing the course in medicine, qualifying in 1939. That same year he married Alice Watts and together they travelled to America where he was to learn his gastrointestinal physiology working with Andrew Ivy in Chicago. They had one child, a daughter.

In 1941 he returned to University College as a lecturer in physiology and a research worker in chemical warfare for the Ministry of Supply in Porton Down. Appointed as senior lecturer in experimental physiology at Liverpool University, he became George Holt professor in 1948 and occupied that chair until he retired in 1981.

Rod Gregory believed that lectures to his undergraduate students were his special responsibility and revision lectures in all branches of the subject were undertaken by him. These were always well attended and finally shed light into the darkest corners of misunderstanding. It was his work at the bench, however, that occupied most of his day and gave him the greatest joy. He took delight in performing all experimental tasks himself, although he was well able to recognize how collaborators with specialized techniques and knowledge could improve the chances of success. He would not put his name on a paper to which he had not made an important contribution in the laboratory.

The work which gained him worldwide recognition, the chemistry of gastrin, began as an off-shoot of an attempt to extract urogastrone from human urine. Bioassay was necessary to test the product for its ability to inhibit acid secretion - what better stimulant for background secretion than the hypothetical physiological stimulant gastrin. The search then began with extracts made from hog stomachs, bought in large quantities from the local abattoir. Purification was finally achieved and then there followed the elucidation of the aminoacid sequence by George Kenner and his group. The gastrin from hog and many other species were shown to have a similar structure and all shared a C-terminal pentapeptide sequence with CCK (George Kenner and his group). Having developed a method for isolation of gastrin from antral mucosa it became possible to attempt the characterization of the substance postulated to be released from pancreatic tumours and thought responsible for the massive gastric hypersecretion found in patients with the Z E syndrome.

The first tumour extract that was found capable of stimulating acid production was obtained from 1gm of tumour provided by French and Sircus in 1960. The unexpected gastric secretion seen on injection in gastric fistula dogs was surprising, and blood sugar was hurriedly estimated to exclude the possibility that insulin was present in the extract. After publication in The Lancet, tumours were received from many different countries so that it became possible to isolate from the tumour extracts the active principle which was shown to be identical to gastrin. One consequence of this work was that it became possible to develop radioimmunoassays, which in these days are used routinely to measure circulating gastrin levels in suspected gastrinoma cases. Rod Gregory’s recent work in collaboration with Graham Dockray, using specialized radioimmunoassay techniques, has extended knowledge of gastrin and related peptides like cholecystokinin from the gut to the brain and intrinsic nervous tissue of the G I tract.

In the symposium to celebrate his 75th birthday, Rod Gregory reviewed the work over 50 years which had brought him so much distinction, and closed by quoting from Pavlov’s letter to young scientists of his country: Never think you know everything, however high the esteem in which you are held, have the courage to say "I am ignorant".’ Although Rod Gregory always staunchly defended his views he also gave opposing opinions serious consideration and was not reluctant to change his mind when faced with arguments of merit. He received many honours, including the Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1965 and its Royal Medal in 1978; the Feldberg Foundation prize; the Beaumont Triennial prize of the American Gastroenterological Association (first award, jointly with V Mutt); the Anniversary Medal of the Swedish Medical Society; the Baly Medal of the Royal College of Physicians of London and the Hunter Medal and Triennial prize of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. H M The Queen appointed him a Commander of the order of the British Empire in 1971. He was elected a Fellow of the College in 1977 under Bye-Law 39b.

He remained cheerful throughout his final illness, despite weakness and pain, and continued to visit the University regularly. The department in Liverpool cannot be the same without him. His wife, whom he had known since his schooldays, and his daughter survived him.

H J Tracy

* Elected under the special bye-law which provides for the election to the fellowship of "Persons holding a medical qualification, but not Members of the College, who have distinguished themselves in the practice of medicine, or in the pursuit of Medical or General Science or Literature.."

[The Times, 17 Sept 1990;The Independent, 13 & 17 Sept 1990; Biog.Pamphlet for Premio Antonio Feltrinelli,1979]

(Volume IX, page 211)

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