Lives of the fellows

Eleanor Zaimis

b.16 June 1915 d.3 October 1982
MB Athens(1938) MD(1941) BSc(1947) MRCP(1968) FRCP(1974)

Eleanor Christides - Nora to her many British friends - was educated at the Greek Gymnasium and graduated in medicine at the University of Athens. She then spent nine years as assistant to Professor Joachimoglu, professor of pharmacology at the University. During this time she gained an MD, pursued studies in chemistry leading to a BSc, was a member of the committee set up in Greece to evaluate the new antibiotics, penicillin and streptomycin, and gave valuable service to the youth centre run by the municipal department of health in Athens.

She came to England in 1947 as a British Council scholar and, after working briefly as a research assistant in the department of pharmacology at Bristol University and later at the National Institute for Medical Research (then at Hampstead), she moved to the department of pharmacology at the school of pharmacy, London University, in 1948, being appointed lecturer in pharmacology in 1950. That same year she was elected associate to the Physiological Society, becoming a full member in 1951 and serving on the committee from 1967 to 1971. In 1954 she was appointed head of the department of pharmacology at the Royal Free Hospital Medical School, becoming professor in 1958. She shared the Cameron prize (1956) and the Gairdner Foundation international award (1958) with William (now Sir William) Paton, and in 1979 was made honorary FFA RCS. She was an honorary member of the Rome Academy of Medicine and a corresponding member of the Academy of Athens. She was awarded the Cross of Commander of the Greek Order of Benevolence in 1962, and in 1968 the NP Kravkov pharmacology medal of the USSR Academy of Medical Sciences.

Nora wrote many papers and her Textbook on Hygiene (1948) won the Greek Academy’s prize. She also edited Nerve Growth Factor and its Antiserum (1972), and ‘Neuromuscular Junction’, volume 42 of Heffter’s Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology (1976).

Throughout her career, Nora continued her experimental research, making substantial fundamental contributions in neuromuscular and cardiovascular pharmacology. Her experimental procedures were models of design and planning, and it was a joy to observe her full participation at the bench. Her work had a strong physiological flavour, always reaching out to vivid illustration (many will remember her striking demonstration with GAH Buttle of the spastic paralysis induced by decamethonium in the chick) and to broader implications. Her arrival at Hampstead coincided with the interest which had been aroused in two members of what is now called the methonium series, synthesized by Harold King. Her degree in chemistry equipped her to synthesize the remaining members, allowing us to identify peak activity in decamethonium and hexamethonium (originally coded Z4 and Z7). After working with William Paton on the methonium compounds, she continued to work on neuromuscular and ganglionic block, and explored many lines important for hypertension and migraine. This in turn led her to be one of the first to emphasize the importance of studying the chronic effects of low doses of drugs, as well as acute effects. Her interest in experimental work never weakened and her writing was cogent and distinguished. She was particularly influential in developing interest in the Levi-Montalcini nerve growth factor, in the face of considerable initial scepticism.

She was born in Galatz, Romania. Her father John Cristides was in shipping, and her mother Helen Hanoutsos was the daughter of a landowner. She adopted British nationality in 1954. She married twice; first in 1938, and again in 1943 to John Zaimis, a politician of note, but they separated some years later. She was a lively, lovely, generous, and fascinating person whose love for the country of her adoption and its people did not in any way detract from her essential ‘Greekness’. She was shrewd, highly intelligent, tough, and a leader by nature. For some, perhaps, her finer qualities were occasionally obscured by the determination with which she practised the high standards she demanded of herself and others, in both academic and private concerns. She was always exciting and interesting, but her dominating personality sometimes caused problems, and her later years were clouded by ill health; but her work and that of her pupils (especially WC Bowman) carried forward the distinctive physiological influence which the Hampstead school exerted on British pharmacology.

Nora Zaimis contributed a great deal to the life and culture of this country and she will be remembered by her friends and colleagues for the warmth, energy, and scientific insight which characterized her in her prime.

Sir William Paton
Sir Gordon Wolstenholme
Valérie Luniewska

[Brit.med.J., 1982, 285, 1280; Lancet, 1982, 2, 1940; Times, 16 Oct 1982; Notes and Records of Roy. Soc., 30, pp.245-249 (HH Dale)]

(Volume VII, page 628)

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