Lives of the fellows

Frank George (Sir) Young

b.25 March 1908 d.20 September 1988
Kt(1973) BSc Lond(1929) PhD(1933) FRSC(1933) DSc(1939) FRIC(1946) MA Cantab(1949) FRS(1949) Hon FRCP(1974) Hon LLD Aberd(1965) Hon DSc Rhodesia later Zimbabwe(1975)

Frank Young was born in London, the son of Frank Edgar Young and his wife Jessie Eleanor, née Pinkney. He was educated at Alleyn’s School, Dulwich and University College London, where he graduated with first class honours in chemistry in 1929, obtaining a PhD in physiology in 1933. His postgraduate education and research for his PhD thesis were carried out under J C Drummond, later Sir Jack; C Lovatt Evans, later Sir Charles [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI, p.166], and A V Hill. In 1932 he was awarded a Beit Memorial fellowship for medical research, which he held at University College and also, at separate times, in the laboratories of the two discoverers of insulin, J J R Macleod [Munk's Roll, Vol.V, p.259] - in Aberdeen, 1933 - and C H Best [Munk's Roll, Vol.VII, p.35], in Toronto, 1934-35.

Frank Young became a member of the scientific staff of the Medical Research Council in 1936 at the National Institute for Medical Research under its director, Sir Henry Dale [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI, p. 130]. During the six years that he spent there Frank made his most important discovery - that permanent diabetes could be produced in experimental animals by the injection of an anterior pituitary gland extract. He later demonstrated that the active material in these extracts was growth hormone. In this work he was able to apply his basic knowledge and skills as a chemist to the complex problems of endocrine physiology and medicine. It was therefore entirely in keeping with these interests when he was appointed professor of biochemistry at St Thomas’s Hospital medical school in 1942 at the early age of 34-. In 1945 he was appointed professor of biochemistry at University College London, and in 1949 became Sir William Dunn professor of biochemistry in the University of Cambridge. He held the latter position until his retirement in 1975.

Frank Young’s contributions to endocrine and diabetes research remain to this day as foundation stones of modern knowledge in these fields. In addition to being elected a fellow of the Royal Society, the importance of his scientific achievements was recognized in a variety of ways too numerous to list. Suffice it to mention the awards of the Banting Memorial medals of both the British Diabetic and American Diabetes Associations and the Upjohn award of the Endocrine Society of the USA. Amongst many named lectures given were: the Stirling lecture, Yale University, USA; the Jacobeus lecture, University of Oslo, Norway; the Richardson lecture, Harvard University medical school, USA; the Litchfield lecture, University of Oxford; the Croonian lecture, the Royal Society, and the Linacre lecture, St John’s College, University of Cambridge.

While continuing with some research at Cambridge, Frank’s major interests and achievements during this period lay in fostering the role of biochemistry in medical education and research. He was a person who both demanded and imposed order in his own activities and those of others. Consequently he was an outstandingly effective administrator and also an excellent editor. Indeed, few pieces of paper that passed before him escaped the almost reflexively operated editorial pencil. The list of Frank’s administrative responsibilities both nationally and internationally would lead someone who did not know him to conclude that few of these could have been satisfactorily executed. On the contrary, Frank was - by virtue of long hours of work - always well briefed. As head of the Cambridge department of biochemistry he was a patient and fair-minded chairman.

The department of biochemistry flourished under his leadership, but this in turn brought its own problems. Large numbers of students applied in their final year to read Part II Biochemistry. The intake grew steadily to 40, but still could not accommodate the applicants who frequently exceeded 100. The prospect of a new building to accommodate a larger class was a great attraction to him. Probably the only major setback which he suffered in the university, through no fault of his own, was the failure to gain the new building which would have crowned his development of biochemistry into one of the strongest biological sciences in the university.

Happily there are two other major monuments to Frank’s achievements in the university: Darwin College and the Clinical School. The way in which Frank worked, steadily and unobtrusively to bring these two institutions into existence illustrates both the nature of his personality and his extreme effectiveness. He clearly perceived the need for a graduate college. In an appendix to the report of the syndicate on the interrelationships between the university and the colleges, under the chairmanship of Lord Bridges, he argued the case. When Darwin College was established in 1963 it was entirely appropriate that he should be the first Master. The critical role which he played in establishing the procedures and ambience of Darwin are well known. From these beginnings the intake of students grew steadily and with a minimum of fuss it became the first mixed college in the university.

From his early days in Cambridge, Frank strongly supported the establishment of a clinical school. Equally, he recognized the powerful internal opposition to this proposal. True to character, his reaction to this conflict was to build a basis of trust and friendship between the key people involved upon which a clinical school could be securely founded. In 1955 a dining club was established, with Frank as a founder member, which rejoiced under the name of The Carphologists. Frank was greatly fascinated by words, and this is probably an example. ‘Carphology’ is a terminal sign in typhoid fever, being a plucking at the bedclothes by the unfortunate patient. One can imagine that Frank saw the dining club as a terminal sign in the opposition to the Clinical School. This club, comprised of a membership drawn equally from the preclinical and clinical subjects, flourishes to this day and continues to foster friendship and academic exchange.

In 1969 Frank became chairman of the Cambridge Clinical School planning committee and the founding of the Clinical School began. Without Frank’s wise leadership the fruition of these plans would have been long delayed, if indeed the Clinical School would have been established at all. Thus, the beginning of Frank’s retirement coincided with the culmination of one of his most consistently pursued plans. In retirement he continued with a number of national and international commitments. Sadly, decreasing mobility eventually forced him to give up one of his greatest enjoyments - international travel.

He married Ruth Turner, who practised as a doctor, in 1933 and they had four children; three sons and a daughter. The strengh and love of Ruth and his family underpinned his professional life, and made his personal life equally fruitful. He was survived by his wife and three sons; his daughter predeceased him.

CB Hales

[The Times, 21 Sept 1988; The Independent, Sept 1988; Brit.med.J., 1988,297,913,1040; Address by Prof.C.N.Hales, Great St Mary’s Church, Cambridge, 27 Nov 1988]

(Volume VIII, page 559)

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