Lives of the fellows

Bryan Hudson

b.13 November 1923 d.3 December 1997
AO(1985) MB BS Melb(1946) MD(1948) MRCP(1951) PhD(1957) FRACP(1959) FRCP(1967) Hon FACP(1975) Hon FRCPC(1981)

The death of Bryan Hudson, first professor of medicine at Monash University and first director of the Prince Henry’s Hospital Medical Research Centre, now Prince Henry’s Institute of Medical Research, deprives the Australian community of one of its most distinguished physician-scientists of this century.

Bryan graduated from the University of Melbourne Medical School in 1946, and was awarded its doctorate of medicine in 1948. He was a keen student, a full participant in student life and a reporter of student affairs for a downtown daily. In many ways he was somewhat of a challenge to his rather formal father, Mr Justice Edward Hudson, later Sir Edward. Partly because of his ‘tear away’ image he was befriended by R D (Pansy) Wright. Despite this, he was not appointed to the resident medical staff of the Royal Melbourne Hospital, perhaps just as well for his career as it eventually evolved!

Following residency at the Alfred Hospital he trained at Northwestern University Medical School, Chicago, under W B Wartman, and in London at St Mary’s Hospital Medical Unit with Sir George Pickering [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.464]. In 1952 he returned to Australia as a research fellow to the Baker Institute and the Alfred Clinical Research Unit. From there he received his PhD from Melbourne University. His earliest studies on pituitary hormones, using cane toads, were pioneering, innovative and important, marked by thoroughness and careful organization, among his outstanding and lifelong characteristics. Here were sown the seeds of his commitment to basic science, both as researcher and teacher. By this time Bryan had been exposed to a remarkable cohort of individuals, who became both friends (and foes) for the rest of his life. The list included future leaders from all fields of Australian medicine.

In 1958 Bryan received further training in steroid hormones at the University of Utah (Salt Lake City). He shone at the Steroid Training Centre and enjoyed to the full measuring himself against brilliant young investigators from around the world. Lasting friendships again followed, in particular with the doyens of the international steroid field, Leo Samuels and Kris Eik-Nes. The family had a particularly happy time in the Mormon heartland where Bryan fared very well, despite his acknowledged agnosticism - perhaps reflecting more on their ability to accommodate him than on his ability to adapt. He returned as joint physician in charge (with Joe Bornstein) of the Ewen Downie Metabolic Unit at the Alfred - an interesting but workable relationship! At this time, with other leading figures in endocrinology, Bryan started the monthly endocrine think tank, later to become the Victorian endocrine group, which established Melbourne as an international endocrine centre.

In 1962 he was appointed to the foundation chair of medicine at Monash University and established his remarkably effective new department at Prince Henry’s Hospital, where he remained for the next ten years. He also established the hospital’s Medical Research Centre. Ken McLean, Henry Burger, Kevin Catt and Jack Hansky were the vibrant young Turks in what became arguably the leading department of medicine in Melbourne, well funded in a very competitive environment for research grants. At this time, in concert with John Coghlan at the Howard Florey Institute, methods were established for measuring the major male sex hormone testosterone, and other related hormones, by tedious and demanding isotopic procedures. These methods led to highly reproducible sensitive and accurate assays and provided the basis for a renaissance in androgen physiology in which he was an acknowledged international authority for many years. The group was the first to demonstrate production of testosterone in sites other than the testis, a principle now central to the understanding of endocrine processes in general. His interests in the male also led him into early research on the hormone inhibin, and on approaches to male contraception, in which his leading collaborators were David de Kretser and Henry Burger. This work led to an initiative, funded by the Ford Foundation and the World Health Organization, to explore the possibilities of a reversible male steroid contraceptive. Bryan served Prince Henry’s and Monash extraordinarily well as foundation professor, though it can be said that lesser mortals eventually wore him thin!

In 1972 he was appointed senior principal research fellow of the National Health and Medical Research Council at the Howard Florey Institute where he eventually became associate director and head of clinical studies, a position he held until 1983. Research colleagues during those years included Gordon Baker, Ted Keogh, Larry Eddie, Hugh Niall and Geoff Tregear. For the next five years he was medical director at the Royal Southern Memorial Hospital, before retiring from active practice.

Bryan Hudson was Australia’s leading endocrinologist. Co-founder, and later president of the Endocrine Society of Australia, he also served as president of the International Society for Endocrinology from 1980 to 1984, having chaired the local organizing committee for the 6th International Congress of Endocrinology held in Melbourne in 1980.

Bryan Hudson was intensely involved in the affairs of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and was its president between 1982 and 1984. His public service to medicine and endocrinology was recognized by his appointment as an Officer of the Order of Australia, General Division (AO) in 1985.

He was a very private person. He was a prototype of the physician-scientist, a clinical endocrinologist who had a rigorous scientific attitude to the practice of medicine. In addition to being a brilliant teacher, he had a remarkable capacity to ‘grow’ and develop young scientists and clinicians. He was an astute diagnostician, skilled in asking the right questions and in instituting correct and pertinent investigations. He was well known not to suffer fools gladly, yet had a wide ranging and open mind and was always prepared to consider views opposed to his own. He put great value on establishing rapport with others.

His opinion on many matters medical and non-medical was widely sought. His loves outside medicine were golf and fly fishing, in both of which he was highly skilled. He was captain and president of Metropolitan Golf Club and a founder of the Tantangara Hunt Club and Madrigal Society, whose membership included a number of leading figures of public life in Victoria.

During his last years at the Howard Florey Institute the complex and insidious deterioration of his health began. His illness, undiagnosed over several years, put great strain on his wife Norma who bore all selflessly and stoically with great good humour.

John P Coghlan
Henry G Burger

(Volume X, page 239)

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