Lives of the fellows

Leonard George Goodwin

b.11 July 1915 d.25 November 2008
CMG(1977) BPharm Lond(1935) BSc(1937) MB BS(1950) MRCP(1966) FRCP(1972) FRS(1976) Hon FRPharmS(1977) Hon DSc Brunel(1986)

Len Goodwin became a pharmacologist by chance. He was a bright boy at school and, on the advice of his paternal uncle Percy, a pharmacist, he enrolled at University College London (UCL) and qualified BPharm in 1935. During his studies, he fell under the influence of J H Burn, who became his patron. As soon as Goodwin had qualified, Burn offered him a post as demonstrator at UCL, which Goodwin held for four years, during which time, on the insistence of Burn, he gained a BSc in physiology. Burn urged him to go on and study medicine. During his studies, Goodwin attended a lecture by Solly Zuckerman [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.612], which Goodwin later described as sheer entertainment: he did not realise the important part Zuckerman was to play in his career many years later.

Goodwin’s medical studies were interrupted by the outbreak of war when the pharmacy school was evacuated to Cardiff and Burn moved to Oxford. Forced to find a job, Goodwin once again sought the advice of uncle Percy, who suggested he should go and see Charles Wenyon, director of research at the Wellcome Bureau of Scientific Research in Euston Road, London, and ask him if there were any vacancies. A week after his interview, Wenyon offered Goodwin a post to investigate the activity of a new series of quinquevalent antimonials for the treatment of leishmaniasis. He was not called up for military service because it was considered more important that he should continue with his work in pharmacology than serve in the armed forces. While at the Wellcome, he was given the opportunity to complete his medical studies by going back to UCL for three years while on half pay. He was awarded his MB BS in 1950. At last, Goodwin’s career was well and truly launched.

From 1939 until 1958, he was responsible for the section of antiprotozoal chemotherapy at the Wellcome, after which he was promoted to head the renamed Wellcome Laboratories of Tropical Medicine. In 1963, he left the Wellcome and was recruited by Solly Zuckerman for the post of director of the Nuffield Institute of Comparative Medicine at the Zoological Society of London. In 1966, he was appointed to an additional post as director of science of the Zoological Society until his retirement in 1980. In the latter post, Goodwin initiated a scheme to X-ray and take blood samples from all zoo animals treated at the animal hospital to build a unique data base of information on all kinds of exotic animals.

Goodwin’s contributions to tropical medicine fall into two sections. Firstly, while at the Wellcome, he worked on the pharmacology of five parasitic diseases, namely malaria (pyrimethamine), leishmaniasis (sodium stibogluconate), trypanosomiasis (phenanthridine derivatives), ascariasis (piperazine) and ankylostomiasis (bephenium). During this time, he is sometimes credited with introducing the golden hamster into the UK. He denied this and said the credit should go to Saul Adler [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.5], who established a hamster colony in Israel and gave breeding stock to Edward Hindle at the London Zoo who, in turn, passed some on to Goodwin. He refined the methods of using these animals for laboratory work with different species of leishmania. The second section of Goodwin’s research was at the Zoo on the pathology of African trypanosomiasis with rabbits as his experimental animals.

With the full support and encouragement of Sir John Boyd [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.57], the director of the Wellcome Laboratories from 1956 until 1966, Goodwin travelled widely in the tropics, mainly for trials of various drugs, but also for experimental studies on schistosomiasis, filariasis and amoebiasis. His personal trial of of pyrimethamine for malaria prophylaxsis in 1951 will never be repeated: he took heroic doses of the drug for a year and then travelled to several highly malarious African countries with no other protection, finally feeding mosquitoes experimentally infected with plasmodium falciparum – the most dangerous human malaria parasite – on himself. He was fully protected. In those days before ethics committees, Goodwin and his colleagues commonly used themselves as guinea pigs to investigate the toxicology of new drugs. This was not without danger: after his retirement, Goodwin progressively lost his sight, caused, he believed, by testing the toxicity of a schistosomicide on himself in Kenya.

Leonard George Goodwin was an only child, born in Wood Green, London. Shortly afterwards, his family moved to nearby Hampstead, where he spent a happy childhood. His father, Harry George Goodwin, was the manager of a high street shoe shop and a pillar of Hampstead parish church. His maternal grandfather, a gamekeeper in Hambleton, Rutland, was a great influence on the young Len, instilling in him a love of the countryside and of growing plants, a passion throughout Goodwin’s life. He was very much a countryman at heart and from 1952 until the end of his life he lived in a cottage in Berkshire with a big garden, some woodland and a field occupied, in 1989, by 18 sheep, four wallabies, 20 ducks, two geese and three cats. Sadly, when Goodwin’s sight failed completely in old age, he was forced to abandon his vegetable garden and his other leisure activities, including pottery and painting in water-colours – his favourite way of illustrating his travels. He had a delightful sense of humour, well-illustrated by his numerous cartoons published in the early numbers of Parasitology Today and his humorous poems.

Goodwin always gave credit to the many senior workers who had encouraged him at different times in his career. He followed their example and discreetly opened doors for many young workers in whom he recognised imagination and potential. He was quietly spoken with a gentle manner, and was much loved and respected. He met his wife Marie (née Coates) in 1937 when they were both students: they were married in 1940 and had no children. Marie died in 2004.

R Killick-Kendrick

[Oxford Brookes University, Goodwin interview with Sir Gordon Wolstenholme, Oxford, 28 June 1989, MSVA 43; Oxford Brookes University, Goodwin interview with Max Blythe, Oxford, 16 July 1996, MSVA 134; The Daily Telegraph 14 January 2009; The Guardian 24 February 2009; The Times 10 March 2009]

(Volume XII, page web)

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