Lives of the fellows

Michael John Davies

b.22 August 1937 d.18 February 2003
MB BS Lond(1961) MD(1968) FRCPath(1978) MRCP(1988) FACC(1989) FRCP(1993)

In 1984 Mike Davies revolutionised our concept of the mechanism of acute myocardial infarction. It had previously been thought to result from the progressive narrowing of arteriosclerotic lesions, or the blocking of a sclerosed artery by spontaneous haemorrhage. His seminal observation was that it was the rupture of an underlying plaque that led to the extravasation of its contents, with resultant occlusion by thrombosis. Later he extended his observations by showing that the fibrous cap overlying the plaque was of crucial importance. Clinical cardiologists soon appreciated these important factors, and took them into account when assessing patients and planning their management. Mike's great recent contribution was thus to the understanding of the pathogenesis of myocardial infarction and to its clinical aspects. All his work was undertaken at St George's Hospital in London, where he held training and research posts in pathology, culminating in his appointment as professor of cardiovascular pathology in 1977, and in 1981 to the British Heart Foundation chair of cardiovascular pathology.

Early research on cardiac conduction problems led to his MD thesis on the pathology of heart blockages. He spent the following year at North Western University, Chicago, as US Public Health research fellow, sponsored by the Medical Research Council, after which he became senior lecturer and then reader in cardiac pathology, until his elevation to a personal chair.

His work on coronary artery disease played an important role in the development of angioplasty and subsequently stent placement, which led to his being invited to give the international lecture to the American Heart Association in 1995, 'Stability and instability: two faces of coronary atherosclerosis'. This lecture commemorates Paul Dudley White, and he was only the fourth British physician to give it.

Mike conducted his research and observations with great thoroughness and expressed them clearly in his writings, which appeared in nearly 200 original peer-reviewed papers, 52 chapters, nine books and five atlases. He was honoured with his election as a founder fellow of the European Society of Cardiology in 1988 and by the fellowship of the American College of Cardiology the following year. In 1997 he received the distinguished achievement award from the Society for Cardiovascular Pathology and in 2001, in absentia, the life-time achievement award from the University of Texas for his work on the vulnerable plaque, given at the 2001 meeting of the American Heart Association.

It was my privilege to have known him since 1968 and to have a close informal relationship whereby we interchanged thoughts on a number of clinical and pathological aspects, including our mutual interest in the Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome; we were both members of the late Dirk Durrer's European working party on pre-excitement from 1972 to 1976. During the 1980s, I was happy to invite him to join the editorial board of the British Heart Journal, of which he became assistant and then associate editor, succeeding me in the editorship in 1992. During his tenure the journal maintained its high standards and reverted to the original title that had been used by Sir Thomas Lewis, Heart. He held this post until 1999 when he started to plan his retirement. Mike also served on the editorial boards of Circulation, the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, and the audiotape journal of ACCEL. During this period his work for the British Heart Foundation culminated in his appointment as vice-chairman of its projects grant committee (from 1992 to 1997) and assistant medical director for research (1999 to 2001).

Mike planned to retire from all these activities in late 2001, and in December 2000 he and his wife Anthea found their ideal home, in Dorset. Soon after they moved there, he was struck down by his final illness. He nevertheless derived much satisfaction from the rural life, which he had always enjoyed but somewhat missed, having earlier been a keen angler. Mike and Anthea were the ideal harmonious couple during the nearly 40 years of their marriage. They had met when he was a medical student and she was a nurse at the Middlesex. Mike is survived by Anthea, their son Harvey, daughter Joanna, and two grandchildren, one born three months after his death.

Dennis M Krikler

(Volume XI, page 146)

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