Lives of the fellows

Anne Ferguson

b.26 July 1941 d.21 Dec 1998
BSc Glasg(1961) MB ChB(1964) MRCP(1967) MRCP Glasg(1968) MRCPath(1973) PhD(1974) FRCP Glasg(1975) FRCP(1977) FRCP Edin(1981) FRCPath(1984) FRSE(1990)

Anne Ferguson was one of Britain’s most distinguished gastroenterologists. She studied medicine at Glasgow University, graduating with a first class BSc degree, in addition to gaining honours from the medical school. She was a lecturer in bacteriology and immunology at Glasgow and was awarded a PhD for her research on the role of intra-epithelial lymphocytes in intestinal immunity in 1973. In 1971 she became the Alexander Fletcher lecturer at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. In 1975 she was appointed as senior lecturer and honorary consultant physician in the gastrointestinal unit of the University of Edinburgh at the Western General Hospital.

With her scientific skills and interest in mucosal immunology she easily found challenges in gastrointestinal diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, coeliac disease, radiation enteropathy and allergic diseases of the gut. She elucidated the central role of activated T-lymphocytes in mediating intestinal damage and this led to a clear understanding of the basic pathogenesis of coeliac disease. She also initiated ground-breaking research into oral tolerance and wrote several seminal papers. This series of papers clearly demonstrated the nature of humoral and cell mediated immune responses to fed protein antigens in mice. Her work laid the foundation for the hypothesis that allergy to dietary antigens and food sensitive enteropathies could be due to disturbance of oral tolerance mechanisms.

In 1979 she was awarded the Sir Francis Avery Jones research medal of the British Society of Gastroenterology, the highest research award that the national gastroenterology body can confer on its researchers. In 1987 the University of Edinburgh awarded her a personal chair in gastroenterology, the first ever professorship in the speciality in Scotland.

Her clinical contributions were recognised by her election to the fellowship of all three UK Royal Colleges of Physicians. She was also a fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists. In 1990 she was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. She headed the University department of medicine at the Western General from 1991 to 1994.

She published over 250 scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals, wrote three books and contributed chapters in many others.

She served on the Scottish Biomedical Research Committee, the governing board of the Rowett Research Institute, the MAFF Food Sensitivity Advisory Board, the UK Committee on the Safety of Medicines, the co-ordinating MRC committee for gene therapy and the spongiform encephalopathy committee. She was president of the International Society of Mucosal Immunology from 1996 to1998, the first president of the Society to come from the United Kingdom, and the first person with a strong clinical background.

Anne demanded the highest standards from research colleagues and trainees, as well as from her clinical colleagues. She had firm convictions and would not hesitate to fight for them - gastroenterology was almost always the eventual winner. She had special skills in looking after children with inflammatory bowel disease and published widely on their standards of care. She often had children with complicated Crohn’s disease referred to her from all parts of Scotland and the north of England. In many circles she was regarded as a paediatric gastroenterologist, though she was primarily a physician of adults. She was one of the first to recognise that silent and latent forms of coeliac disease posed major diagnostic and management problems.

Anne Ferguson was a formidable force in attracting grants and other resources and built a large research team in mucosal immunology. In the late eighties, she made a deliberate decision to move away from animal research and concentrate on developing techniques to study mucosal immunology and inflammation in human subjects and patients. Hers was one of only two units in Edinburgh funded by the Scottish Executive to implement patient-focused care. She pushed forward sweeping changes with her characteristic enthusiasm, though the inertia of the establishment often irritated her. She not only brought clinical and laboratory gastroenterology under one roof, but initiated one-stop clinics to expedite patient treatment and reduce bureaucracy.

Her reputation in scientific research and especially in coeliac disease attracted young trainees from all over the world to Edinburgh. Many of her trainees now head departments or occupy chairs in far-flung corners of the world. She was especially supportive towards research in developing countries, and in recent years had forged a strong link with the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Dhaka, Bangladesh. She also created training opportunities in Edinburgh for young promising doctors from third world countries.

During her university years, Anne Ferguson’s capabilities were not confined to academic success alone. She played basketball for Scotland and she once won the famed Maiden’s Hill race at Kinlochleven. She shared her interest in climbing with her first husband, John, and travelled in the Himalayas with him. She always encouraged women to succeed in medicine and readily supported them in their careers in medicine. Her deep love for all things Scottish was ever apparent and she firmly believed in a just society with support and sympathy for those requiring help and affection.

Though Anne Ferguson was a tough negotiator and taskmaster, she had an unique underlying warmth and femininity which touched those closest to her. After her marriage to Gerald Collee, professor of medical microbiology at the University of Edinburgh, in 1994, she enjoyed a warm and loving family life. She died from pancreatic carcinoma after a brief illness, which she bore with characteristic resilience and fortitude.

Subrata Ghosh

[Proc.R.Coll.Physicians.Edinb, 1999;29:179-180; Bulletin.RCP&SGlasg, Vol.28,Sept 1999]

(Volume XI, page 189)

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