Lives of the fellows

George James Miller

b.7 October 1939 d.14 August 2006
MB ChB Manch(1963) MRCP(1966) MD(1972) FRCP(1981)

George James Miller, professor of epidemiology at Bart’s and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, was an epidemiologist interested in cardiovascular disease. He was born in Liverpool, the son of George Miller, and was educated at Quarry Bank High School. His younger brother, Norman, became a pathologist and specialist in metabolic disorders at St Thomas’ Hospital, London.

Miller went on to study medicine at Manchester, qualifying in 1963. He was a house officer at Manchester Royal Infirmary and subsequently a junior lecturer in physiology at the University of Manchester. He then moved to the University Hospital, Kingston, Jamaica, where he was a senior registrar, before joining, in 1967, the scientific staff of the Medical Research Council’s (MRC) epidemiology unit in Jamaica. During his time there he showed how a form of pulmonary fibrosis unique to the region was linked to the smoking of a particular type of tobacco.

In 1971 Miller returned to the UK to join the MRC’s pneumoconiosis unit in Penarth, Wales. While at the unit he collaborated with his brother to publish an article in the Lancet which proposed that high density lipoproteins (HDL) protect arteries against atherosclerosis, while a low HDL level was a risk factor for coronary heart disease (‘Plasma-high-density-lipoprotein concentration and development of ischaemic heart-disease’ Lancet. 1975 Jan 4;1[7897]:16-9). This much-cited paper has led to research into a number of new approaches to the prevention of heart disease.

In 1975 Miller went back to the Caribbean, as a member of the MRC’s scientific staff at the Caribbean epidemiology centre, based in Trinidad. There he set up what became known as the St James’ survey, a prospective survey into cardiovascular diseases on the island. He also worked on an investigation into HTLV-1 lymphoma-leukaemia, which was endemic to the Caribbean.

In 1981 Miller returned to the UK to join the MRC’s epidemiology and medical care unit at Northwick Park Hospital, Harrow. Here he helped develop the existing work of the unit, which looked at the blood clotting system and the thrombotic component of heart attacks. Based on the findings of the second Northwick Park heart study, he suggested that, in the process leading to heart attacks, some clotting factor levels were secondary to inflammatory processes in arteries affected by chronic degenerative processes. Miller also carried out smaller clinical studies, demonstrating the effects of diet on clotting factors, showing that dietary fat intake, blood lipid levels and clotting factors were all interdependent.

When the unit moved to the newly-formed Bart’s and London Medical School, Miller was given his own chair.

While carrying out his cardiovascular research, he also studied the ways in which society has been shaped by patterns of land ownership and distribution. His ideas were outlined in two books: On fairness and efficiency: the privatisation of the public income over the past millennium (Bristol, Polity Press, 2000) and Dying for justice (London, Centre for Land Policy Studies, 2003).

He was diagnosed with bowel cancer shortly before he retired. He was married three times and had five children.

RCP editor

[Brit.med.J., 2007 334 753]

(Volume XII, page web)

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