Lives of the fellows

Ian Jeffreys (Sir) Wood

b.5 February 1903 d.1 September 1986
Kt(1976) MBE(1942) MB BS Melb(1927) MD(1929) MRCP(1932) FRACP(1938) FRCP(1944)

Ian Jeffreys Wood was born in Melbourne and educated at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School and the University of Melbourne. After the usual house appointments, he became medical superintendent of the Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne, in 1930. Subsequently he spent a year as house physician to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children, London, in 1931; he was Marion Carty research fellow to the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of medical research in 1935, physician to outpatients at the Royal Children’s Hospital in 1936 and to the Royal Melbourne Hospital in 1939. He served in the Australian Imperial Forces during the second world war, as physician specialist with the rank of major, being promoted to colonel, OC 2/7 Australian General Hospital. He was awarded the MBE.

In 1945 Ian Wood was appointed head of the newly created clinical research unit at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research and the Royal Melbourne Hospital, and became assistant director to Sir Macfarlane Burnet (q.v.) of the Hall Institute until his retirement in 1963. During this time he achieved outstanding success in medical research. After 1963, Ian became consultant physician to the Royal Melbourne Hospital and to the Repatriation General Hospital, Heidelberg, Victoria. In 1974 he received the Neil Hamilton Fairley medal awarded jointly by the College and the Australasian College, and in 1976 was honoured with a knighthood for his services to medicine.

Ian Wood, in his professional life, was continually motivated by his quest for discovery and healing: his autobiography, fittingly entitled Discovery and healing in peace and war, Toorak, Australia, was published in 1984.

Prior to the second world war, Ian Wood carried out much of the essential research on which the establishment of blood banking in Australia was based. He joined a Red Cross committee dealing with the extension of the donor panel in 1938, and on the afternoon of the day when war broke out he accompanied Lucy Bryce on a visit to the chairman of the Red Cross, John Newman Morris, to obtain his approval for the implementation of the Red Cross Emergency Blood Transfusion Service. Ian Wood was one of the leaders in the organization of blood for the Australian Armed Forces, and organized the introduction of blood transfusion in the Middle East. On leaving the Army in January 1946, he rejoined the Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service committee and played an important role in the postwar development of the service.

Ian Wood is acknowledged as the founding father of clinical research in Australia. The major effort of his clinical research unit was in gastroenterology. Wood’s approach was observational, intuitive and descriptive rather than reductionist, and he relied strongly on histopathological and clinical correlation. He was also a great believer in technical innovation. These principles were applied to two major diseases which received particular study in his unit and brought it a substantial reputation: hepatitis and gastritis. He used liver biopsy to study chronic active hepatitis which, in 1948, was a virtually unknown disease, and his foresight led to the recognition that autoimmunity was an important determinant of this disease.

In the course of aspirating gastric juice, Ian Wood fortuitously observed that gastric mucosa as well as gastric secretions could be sampled by per oral suction. This led to the design, with Arthur Hughes, an engineering colleague, of a thin biopsy tube with a sampling head into which a small fragment of gastric mucosa was drawn by a suction pump. Using the ‘Wood tube’ his unit examined close on 2000 gastric mucosal specimens and this experience enabled him and his colleagues to delineate the natural history of gastritis, to differentiate the ‘simple’ from the atrophic or ‘pernicious-anaemia’ type of gastritis, and correlate biopsy appearances with gastric secretory function. These studies culminated in his monograph, with Leon Taft, on Diffuse Lesions of the Stomach..., London, Arnold, 1958.

Later Ian Wood became a strong promotor of Burnet’s concepts on autoimmunity and enthusiastically urged his unit to examine various chronic diseases, in addition to hepatitis and gastritis, for autoimmune associations. He gave unfailing encouragement to Mackay and Burnet during preparation of their monograph on Autoimmune diseases... Springfield, 111., Thomas. 1963.

Ian Wood served medicine in many ways other than research. He was a most successful administrator and, apart from the organization of his own unit, he served Burnet as deputy director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute from 1948-63; Burnet greatly relied on his wise counsel and shrewd advice. Ian was a kind and patient as well as a skilful clinician, and this was reflected by the large and busy service in his ward and clinics at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. He was also a dedicated teacher of medical students and postgraduates, and went to an extreme degree of preparedness for lectures and tutorials whatever the size and nature of the audience.

He enjoyed writing and taught innumerable acolytes the principles of preparing a scientific paper. Whatever he wrote, there was never a lack of emphasis, so that the point to be made could not be missed. His writing reflected his punctilious devotion to a style based essentially on Fowler's Modern English Usage, with more often than not a touch of grandeur creeping in. His autobiography, written late in life, expressed this to a degree which evoked great nostalgia among his many protégés.

Ian Wood was a gracious and sociable man who enjoyed his many friendships. Many of them went back to his younger days when he was a talented sportsman; he recalls in his autobiography how he matched skills on the cricket field with players of international standard. He had a great ‘will to win’ at work and play, but this was allied with a generous humanism which deflected his competitive edge. He will be especially remembered for his rare sense of social devoirs. If he accepted an invitation, or received a reprint or report, or listened to a good lecture, there invariably followed a punctilious handwritten letter of appreciation and congratulations.

It was my privilege to read the funeral oration for Ian Wood which closed with some stanzas from Tennyson’s In Memoriam, including:
I climb the hill: from end to end
of all the landscape underneath,
I find no place that does not breathe
Some gracious memory of my friend.

IR Mackay

[, 1986,293,1035,1248; Lancet, 1986,2,760; The Times, 11 Sept 1986; RACP Coll.Newsletter, Feb 1976]

(Volume VIII, page 548)

<< Back to List