Lives of the fellows

John James Rickard Macleod

b.6 September 1876 d.16 March 1935
MB ChB Aberd(1898) DPH Cantab(1902) Hon DSc Toronto(1923) Hon LLD Aberd(1925) Hon LLD Western Reserve(1928) FRSC(1919) FRS(1923) *FRCP(1930) FRSE(1932)

By the death of John Macleod at the early age of fifty-nine British medical science suffered a severe loss. He was born at Cluny, near Dunkeld in Perthshire, the son of the Rev. Robert Macleod and his wife, the former Jane Guthrie McWalter, and was educated at the Grammar School and Marischal College, Aberdeen, where he graduated with an Anderson travelling scholarship which took him to the Physiological Laboratory of Leipzig. In 1901, when he was lecturer in biochemistry at the London Hospital, he was awarded the McKinnon research scholarship of the Royal Society, and in 1902 began his succession of professorships in physiology at the Western Reserve University of Cleveland, Ohio, and at Toronto, that led in 1928 to his election to the chair in Aberdeen.

For some eighteen years before the discovery of insulin he had been interested in the problems of carbohydrate metabolism, searching for the part played by the pancreas and for its possible production of the internal secretion named ‘insuline’ by Sharpey-Schafer in 1916. He was therefore fully prepared to give the necessary and willing support to Banting and Best, and then to J. B. Collip, that in 1921 led to an extract of islet tissue from ox pancreas in sufficient purity and quantity to treat a diabetic patient. In 1932 he returned to experiments he had begun in 1908 on the possibility that the brain had a diabetogenic centre which could be directly inhibited by insulin. But Macleod did not confine his researches to carbohydrate metabolism; he made valuable contributions to the knowledge of subjects ranging from caisson disease and ventilation, to the chemistry of muscle and of the tubercle bacillus. He published no fewer than eleven books and monographs, the best known being Physiology and biochemistry in modern medicine (1918), Diabetes: its pathological physiology (1913), Carbohydrate metabolism and insulin (1926) and The Fuel of life (1928).

A lucid and constructive teacher, he was interested in medical education. Even in his last years, although suffering much from painful disabilities, he gave support to every research worker who had his own standards of honesty and loyalty and his own scorn of pomposity. The little time he could give to hobbies was spent in gardening and the study of painting, but he somehow found the extra time to be associate editor of the Journal of Laboratory and Clinical Medicine, Nutrition Abstracts and Reviews, and Physiological Reviews, and to be an active member of the Medical Research Council from 1929 to 1933. His well-deserved honours included the Nobel prize in physiology and medicine, which he shared with Banting in 1923, the Cameron prize of Edinburgh University, the honary membership of numerous learned societies, the presidencies of the American Physiological Society and the Royal Canadian Institute, and the award of the fellowships of the Royal Societies of London, Edinburgh and Canada.

In 1903 he married Mary Watson, daughter of Robert McWalter, of Paisley. They had no children.

Richard R Trail

* He was 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..."

[Aberdeen Press and Journal, 18 Mar. 1935 (p); Biochem. J., 1935, 29, 1253-6; Brit.med.J., 1935, 1, 624 (p); Quart. J. exper. Physiol., 1935, 25, 105-08; Lancet, 1935, 1, 716-17 (p); Nature (Lond.), 1935, 135, 533-4; Obit. Not. roy. Soc., 1932-5, 1, 585-9; Times, 18 Mar. 1935; D.N.B., 1931-40, 585-6.]

(Volume V, page 259)

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