Lives of the fellows

David Morling Matthews

b.15 December 1926 d.3 June 1990
MB BS Lond(1949) PhD Sheff(1956) MD Lond(1964) FRCPath(1964) MRCP(1969) DSc Lond(1979) FRCP(1983)

David Morling was born to Muriel Elsie, a Bedford College graduate, and Horace Arthur Matthews, a geologist, in High Wycombe and was educated at the Royal Grammar School, Wycombe, from where he entered University College London and University College Hospital. He was a brilliant student, winning the Fellowes gold medal in medicine in 1947, and after house jobs in and linked to UCH he became an assistant lecturer in physiology in Sheffield, 1951-54, where he began his life-long study of amino acid absorption - his first paper in 1952, achieving his PhD in 1956.

After two years as resident pathologist at Selly Oak Hospital, Birmingham, 1954-56, he was appointed lecturer in physiology at the University of Birmingham where his other life-long interest of cobalamin metabolism and its absorption began with his first paper in that field in 1958. He returned to pathology as lecturer in chemical pathology at the Royal Free Hospital, 1951-62, in the great days of Sheila Sherlock, and it was then that he met and married Patricia Mary Maxwell in 1960.

From 1962-65 he was senior lecturer in chemical pathology at the Institute of Neurology where he completed his MD London on B12 metabolism. His further research on intestinal absorption and renal absorption in this period was to make him the perfect co-worker with Malcolm Milne (q.v.) when he was appointed as reader in Noel Maclagan’s [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.313] department of chemical pathology at the Westminster medical school in 1965.

It was in the ’60s that the tremendous breakthrough was made in discovering that dipeptides and tripeptides could be absorped even more efficiently than amino acids, at last explaining Milne’s puzzle at those patients with Hartnup disease - with complete failure of single amino acid absorption - who were nevertheless able to absorb and maintain their protein nutrition: for this work Milne was to be made FRS.

David’s continued laboratory research in intestinal absorption, and his pioneering work on the four forms of B12 and their reliable estimation, made him internationally famous. He received a travelling fellowship from the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda USA, honours from the American Society of Gastroenterology, and as an expert witness for the US Food and Drug Administration - who flew him to and ‘fro on Concorde - with regard to glutamic acid and the Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.

He was made a scientific Fellow of the Zoological Society and in 1970 he was awarded a personal professorship in experimental chemical pathology from the University of London - winning his DSc in 1979. He successfully supervised six university higher degrees but for many years had not undertaken the teaching of undergraduates.

In 1982 disaster struck with the implementation of the Flowers report of the University of London and David was forced to take early retirement at 55 years of age. London University pressure at that time was so anti-medical that the Westminster medical students greeted Flowers’ only visit to that School by parading past him, heads bowed, carrying a black coffin inscribed with the insignia of their medical school. This may have halted the immediate destruction of their school but it, and letters from famous scientists worldwide, did not stop the cuts to the laboratory that Marvin Sleisinger of San Francisco, Harold Schedl of Iowa and Harvey Levy of Harvard, among others, had rated one of the foremost in the world in peptide and B12 metabolism.

David’s scientific publications reached at least 2l6, the majority in very prestigious journals. He was, however, almost a scientific recluse -so devoted to his research work that the clock meant nothing to him. Unfortunately, he was also a heavy smoker which hastened his incapacity and his death at 63 years of age. He was a keen horseman and took a deep interest in English domestic architecture and domestic history.

JR Hobbs

(Volume IX, page 354)

<< Back to List