Lives of the fellows

Sidney Charles Truelove

b.24 Feb 1913 d.19 Apr 2002
MB BChir Cantab(1938) MD(1946) MRCP(1947) FRCP(1961) Hon MD Tubingen(1986) Hon MD Crete (1989) Hon MD Madrid(1993)

Sidney Truelove was a man whose name will live on in gastroenterology, having been one of the pioneers; and his name will be forever linked to ulcerative colitis. His penetrating intellect, his humanity, and his total lack of pomp and self-aggrandisement made him a compassionate and skilled physician, a superb clinical investigator and a stimulating teacher. His delightful eccentricities were legendary. Writing a scientific paper with him was a trial of strength - it would take place during the small hours of the night, aided by frequent cups of coffee, cigarettes, lively discussion about topical affairs, and concluding with whisky. Woe betide any tired research fellow who tried to take short-cuts in data analysis or in presentation! He rapidly found that Sidney, having only minimal regard to social niceties, was an absolute stickler for scientific protocol.

Sidney Truelove was born in London, went to a local grammar school in Cambridgeshire, and won an open scholarship to Trinity Hall, Cambridge. Clinical training was at King's College, London, where he was awarded the Raymond Gooch scholarship. After various house officer posts, he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and served in the War Office and in Italy during the period 1939 to 1946 with a final rank of lieutenant-colonel. While in Italy, he made an important contribution to the epidemiology of infectious hepatitis amongst the British troops, observations that so impressed L J Witts [Munk's Roll, Vol.VII, p.618] (the first Nuffield professor of medicine in Oxford) that he invited Truelove to Oxford. The other significant event of these war years that was to influence the rest of Sidney's professional life was his introduction to medical statistics by Lancelot Hogben at the War Office. Indeed, he delayed his demobilization in order to continue working with Hogben.

His subsequent career in Oxford until retirement in 1980 was to become packed with original observations in a wide spectrum of gastro-intestinal diseases. Randomized clinical trials of treatment of peptic ulcers led him to study the gastro-duodenal mucosa, which resulted in the observation that, while ulcers might heal, the background mucosal inflammation did not heal (now, readily explained by our knowledge of Helicobacter pylori). Studies on coeliac disease were to lead to partial characterization of the toxic moiety of gluten and his extraordinary logical mind began to address the irritable bowel syndrome. He was the first in the UK to use time-lapse line fluorography. He was also the first gastroenterologist in Britain to use a fibreoptic endoscope and recognize its research as well as clinical potential, a view not generally shared by the majority of the members of the British Society of Gastroenterology at the time. This view was rewarded by the invitation to become the first president of the British Society of Digestive Endoscopy. Subsequently, he became president of the British Society of Gastroenterology (from 1974 to 1975).

However, it is his work in ulcerative colitis that has made the most impact on clinical practice. The first randomized trial of cortisone in active ulcerative colitis (with L J Witts) and his studies on the course and prognosis of ulcerative colitis (with Felicity Edwards) will remain classics in the field. He was also the first to develop topical treatment for ulcerative colitis having been impressed by the use of topical steroid treatment for many skin diseases. Then, in 1977, with Azad Khan, he demonstrated in an elegant clinical trial that 5-aminosalicylic acid (5ASA) was the active ingredient of sulphasalazine when treating ulcerative colitis. In 1981, shortly after his retirement, he founded the International Organisation for the Study of Inflammatory Bowel Disease and remained an active participant for the next 20 years.

As a teacher, he was always stimulating and always challenged dogma. Hapless medical students, whose knowledge was found wanting, were sent to the library and would make a presentation the following week that usually benefited everyone's education. Postgraduates from overseas were nurtured carefully so that they felt at home, their domestic affairs were cared for, and their frequent linguistic problems patiently tolerated. His clarity of thought and his ability to engage with those in training made him a popular lecturer in all parts of the world.

He is survived by his ever supportive wife, Joan, and two children, Anna and Richard.

Derek Jewell

[References:The Times7 May 2002]

(Volume XI, page 582)

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