Lives of the fellows

Ian Kirkland Hart

b.14 February 1958 d.10 November 2008
BSc Glasg(1981) MB ChB(1983) MRCP(1986) PhD Lond(1990) FRCP Glasg(1997) FRCP(2003)

Ian Hart was a consultant neurologist at the Walton Centre for Neurology and Neurosurgery in Liverpool and a senior lecturer in neurology at the University of Liverpool. He was born in Cathcart, Glasgow, the son of John Hart, a fitter, and Jean Hart, a factory worker. He was educated at Claremont High School and read medicine at the University of Glasgow. Here he took an extra year to read for a BSc in physiology, in the course of which he published three papers on neurological reflexes and blood pressure control. Ian was subsequently awarded a Scottish Home and Health Department scholarship and a Carnegie Foundation scholarship before he qualified with a commendation in 1983. He won several prizes at medical school, but was apparently too modest to collect any of them.

Ian was appointed to house officer and senior house officer posts in the university department of medicine in Glasgow, where he worked for two successive regius professors of medicine, Sir Abraham Goldberg [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web] and John Reid. Ian’s next appointment was as a registrar in neurology at the Institute of Neurological Sciences in Glasgow. During this time he published 10 papers on clinical neurology including – significantly – an early paper on cancer and the nervous system. He then moved to London as a Medical Research Council research fellow at UCL working on developmental cell biology with M Raff. Here Ian acquired the laboratory experience that would be needed in his academic career. He contributed to further papers on the development of oligodendrocytes. He was able to find time to do more clinical work as a clinical assistant in neurology at the National Hospital, Queen Square.

Ian decided on an academic career and, in 1991, moved to a Medical Research Council clinician scientist fellowship in the department of clinical neurology, Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford. Here he studied neuroimmunology with John Newsom-Davis [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web] and Angela Vincent. This was the basis of his later work on encephalitis and peripheral nerve disorders. Ian was a co-author of several papers, abstracts and book chapters on potassium channels, peripheral nerve hyperexcitability and myasthenia gravis.

From 1996 until he died, Ian was a senior lecturer in the university department of neurological science and consultant neurologist at the Walton Centre for Neurology and Neurosurgery. He arrived with an unusually strong background in both clinical neurology and laboratory research. He had already developed considerable expertise in neuroimmunology and it was this that Ian developed further at Walton, along with much general neurology at Walton, Broad Green Hospital and latterly Southport District General Hospital. He was a highly respected neurologist. His clinical opinion was in great demand, especially with complex and difficult neuroimmunology cases – an area in which he became a national authority. More often than not he would take over the treatment of these patients to ensure they had the best care. He was a caring doctor and dedicated to the needs of his patients.

Ian established the neuroimmunology laboratory at Walton and developed several diagnostic tests previously not available in Liverpool, for myasthenia gravis, encephalitis and paraneoplastic syndromes. He reported the tests and offered an advice service to colleagues (with whom he was always very patient) concerning the appropriate use and interpretation of these specialised investigations.

He ran the regional myasthenia clinic and was an expert in the management of this disorder. Ian became a nationally recognised expert in the diagnosis and treatment of myasthenia. He also set up the Walton sleep disorders clinic because of his interest in the immunology of some sleep disorders. This soon developed into a busy service for which there was a great – and at times difficult to manage – demand. Again, he was one of the few national experts in sleep medicine.

Ian continued his interest in paraneoplastic disorders. He had an international reputation in this field and was always the person his colleagues turned to when dealing with such patients.

Ian continued to produce impressive academic results. He was an author of over 40 academic papers, two books on myasthenia gravis, over 10 textbook chapters and many abstracts. In the last year of his life he was a co-author of a new myasthenia treatment trial. He presented his results at national and international meetings all over the world. He supervised MD and PhD students, taught medical students and set up the Liverpool neuroimmunology research group and the Walton clinical neuroimmunology group. He was a founder member of the European clinical and research network on paraneoplastic disorders. He was starting new work on the paraneoplastic effects of prostate cancer. He delivered prestigious invited lectures in the UK and overseas and was a reviewer for high profile journals including Brain, Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry and Neurology.

Ian was concerned with the welfare of all those with neurological disorders. He was a trustee and board member of the Myasthenia Gravis Association and a medical adviser to the Encephalitis Support Group. He wrote two books on myasthenia gravis to enable doctors and patients to understand this condition.

He was a quiet man – unpretentious and modest, despite his many achievements. He would always be helpful and attentive when colleagues needed his clinical wisdom and support. He never flinched from taking on very difficult cases. He would cover a night or a weekend on call and never wanted to be paid back in kind.

Ian’s death was a great loss to British neurology, the Walton Centre and his colleagues and friends. He left his wife, Gillian, and two daughters, Alice and Ellon.

Nicholas Fletcher

[Brit.med.J., 2009 338 1465]

(Volume XII, page web)

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