Lives of the fellows

David Abraham Goitein Galton

b.1 March 1922 d.28 November 2006
CBE(1986) FRCP(1969) MA MD

David Galton was a distinguished pioneer in the development of successful treatment for adult patients with leukaemia or lymphoma. His generosity of spirit, kindliness and modesty were deeply appreciated by all with whom he came into professional contact, whether as colleague, mentor or teacher. His readiness to share his great knowledge with anyone who sought his advice, together with the enthusiasm with which he imparted his knowledge, made him one of the best-loved, as well as most respected, practitioners of haematology during his career.

David qualified in medicine from Trinity College, Cambridge, and University College Hospital, London, in 1946. As an undergraduate he had a particular interest in pathology, as a houseman he developed a fascination with the relationship between what he saw through the microscope in the blood and bone marrow of his patients, and their clinical course. His observations were meticulous and were faithfully recorded in minute writing in innumerable small notebooks, filled over many years with details he was able to access whenever a similarity in a new case jogged his phenomenal memory. Careful classification of disease was part of his important contribution to clinical care.

In the early 1950s there was little research in the UK into drug treatment of cancer except at the Chester Beatty Research Institute (later the Institute of Cancer Research) at the Royal Cancer Hospital (later the Royal Marsden Hospital), under the direction of Sir Alexander Haddow [Munk's Roll, Vol.VII, p.236]. David joined the group in 1947, at a time when important drug discoveries were being made by Haddow's team. In the USA there was more research activity and, particularly for children, survival was improving. Galton believed that with careful identification of appropriate cases and the judicious use of these new agents, the prognosis for adults might also be improved.

Galton established a close professional relationship and friendship with Sir John Dacie [Munk's Roll, Vol.XII, web] at the British (later Royal) Postgraduate Medical School, Hammersmith Hospital, based on their mutual understanding of the importance of examination of the morphology of blood cells in the management of disease and their shared interest in music and natural history, in Galton's case the study of birds, mushrooms and lichens.

The association of the two men went back to 1947, when Galton, who was house physician at the Royal Surrey County Hospital at the time, brought an unusual bone marrow slide from a rapidly fatal case of acute leukaemia to Dacie for his opinion. Both delighted in careful observation and classification. When Blackwell's launched the British Journal of Haematology in 1950, the first in its field, Dacie, the founding editor, invited Galton on to the editorial board, a position he maintained through his career, being editor in chief from 1966 to 1968.

A little later, Galton was able, through the Chester Beatty Institute, to obtain from America a small amount of a new drug, aminopterin, which had potential activity in acute leukaemia. With the blessing of Haddow and the help and encouragement of Dacie, Galton administered the drug, at Hammersmith Hospital, to a patient with acute leukaemia, a fully informed and aware Scottish poet. A remission of some three months was the result, unheard of at that time. With the further encouragement of Haddow, Galton devoted two days each week to the care of patients with leukaemia and lymphoma in the department of medicine at Hammersmith. In 1959 the Medical Research Council (MRC) invited Galton to become secretary to its newly established leukaemia working party. His association with the MRC lasted until his retirement, through both the working party and the leukaemia trials steering committee, which he chaired for many years, seeing more and more successful trials through to fruition. When the MRC decided to establish a leukaemia research unit for the clinical management of patients, where new drug treatment could be given under rigorous control in appropriate environment, it was to the Royal Postgraduate Medical School that the task was given in 1969 and Galton was invited to be its director.

The leukaemia unit, under David Galton's direction, rapidly acquired national and international renown for its high standard of patient care and innovative treatment schedules. Postgraduate students came from many parts of the world, particularly the Commonwealth, to spend time on the unit or to be taught on the diploma courses by Galton and his colleagues.

In 1975 Galton established, with like-minded haematologists from France and America, a small working group of seven members known as the French-American-British (FAB) group, to classify haematological malignancies. The group met annually to exchange slides and case histories, and published 12 landmark papers on the classification of blood cancers between 1976 and 1990. The FAB classifications influenced the field of leukaemia for more than 20 years. During this period he became particularly interested in chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) and was a founding member of the International Workshop on CLL with colleagues from France and the USA.

In 1976 he was appointed professor of haematological oncology at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School and in 1986 was awarded the CBE for services to leukaemia research. He was scientific adviser to the Leukaemia Research Fund throughout his career. He and his wife Pat, who were married in 1946, were loyal fundraisers for the charity, as well as taking great interest in the beneficiaries. In the 1970s he became secretary and later chairman of the scientific advisory committee of the Lady Tata Memorial Trust, based in India, and remained in post after his retirement.

David Galton retired in 1987, to devote his time to his family and his hobbies at his home in Norfolk. He was a skilful musician and gardener. An early retirement project was to develop his own bog garden. Metastatic prostate cancer was diagnosed some 10 years before his death, a condition he faced with equanimity and courage. He is remembered with the deepest affection by the many people worldwide with whom he worked. He is survived by his wife and three sons.

Ted Gordon-Smith

[Brit.med.J.,2007,334,642;The Times 12 January 2007;The Daily Telegraph 18 January 2007;The Independent 12 February 2007]

(Volume XII, page web)

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