Lives of the fellows

Iain MacIntyre

b.30 August 1924 d.18 September 2008
FRS(1996) MB ChB Glasg(1947) PhD Lond(1960) MRCPath(1963) MRCP(1969) DSc Lond(1970) FRCPath(1971) FRCP(1977) Hon DSc Turin(1985)

Iain MacIntyre, former chair of chemical pathology at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School, London, will be remembered for his many contributions to the endocrinology of calcium and bone metabolism, for the innovation and vitality of his research, and for his leadership in academic medicine.

He was born in Glasgow, the son of John MacIntyre, a merchant. After graduating in medicine from the University of Glasgow in 1947, Iain trained in pathology in Sheffield from 1948 to 1952, as a demonstrator in Sir Hans Krebs’ [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.325] department of biochemistry. Iain then set out on a career in chemical pathology at the Postgraduate Medical School (later, the Royal Postgraduate Medical School). His early research was focused on the regulation of magnesium metabolism, and his zeal for precision and accuracy of chemical methods for measuring substances in body fluids culminated in the very first development of high temperature flame photometry for the measurement of calcium and magnesium.

It was, however, his pioneering research in the early 1960s that led to the discovery of a calcium lowering principle – calcitonin – as a hormone released from the thyroid gland. Harold Copp had previously predicted this hypocalcaemic principle to be of a parathyroid cell origin. In a carefully conducted corpus of elegant experiments, MacIntyre showed not only a thyroid origin for calcitonin, later confirmed by Paul Munson from Harvard, but also, together with A G E Pearce, a histologist at the Hammersmith, localised calcitonin to the ‘C’ cell of the thyroid gland using some of the earliest histochemical methods. He then demonstrated that calcitonin prevented the flux of calcium from bone to blood by inhibiting the resorption of bone, thus establishing its existence as a potent calcium regulating hormone.

Iain MacIntyre purified and provided the first chemical sequence of pig calcitonin, and then human calcitonin, which his group isolated from medullary thyroid carcinoma. Importantly, thereafter, he pioneered the use of calcitonin clinically in patients with Paget’s disease, and with H R Morris at Imperial College, isolated and sequenced human calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), which he found was the most potent known vasodilator.

Iain’s career at the Hammersmith was outstanding for its laboratory and research contributions at a time when clinical endocrinology was led by Russell Fraser [Munk’s Roll, Vol.X, p.149]. He was professor of endocrine chemistry and chemical pathology and consultant physician, and was appointed initially as director of the newly-created Wellcome endocrine unit, and then director of the department of chemical pathology at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School. During this time, in the early 1970s, while continuing his research on the calcitonin gene peptides, he made several seminal contributions on the regulation of vitamin D metabolism. During the 1970s and 1980s, he continued to play not only a key role in the academic activities of the Royal Postgraduate Medical School, but also made an indelible impact on bone and mineral research worldwide. In 1986, he assumed the chairmanship of the academic board of the Royal Postgraduate Medical School, and in 1989, after his formal retirement, continued as emeritus professor and research director at the William Harvey Research Institute, then a part of St Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical School. As his studies continued with a small group of dedicated colleagues and collaborators, including myself and Sir John Vane [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web], he made the groundbreaking discovery in 1990 that nitric oxide, which was considered solely a vasodilator, regulated bone cell metabolism directly. His work on studying nitric oxide regulation by hormones continued until the last very few years, and has led to the trial of novel nitric oxide donors for use in human osteoporosis.

In addition to his research contributions, Iain made a major impact on endocrinology and medicine through the eight biennial conferences held during the 1970s and 1980s at the Royal College of Physicians. While calcium and bone metabolism featured strongly at these events, there was a focus too on the very latest topics in endocrinology, particularly when molecular biology as a discipline was at its infancy. Outstanding national and international speakers pushed participants to think beyond the narrow confines of their immediate interests. The published proceedings of those conferences are well worth re-reading, with much content that is prophetic. The subjects were often contentious, the debates were sometimes fierce, but with all views liberally represented. Iain, the host and chairman, worked with skill, charm and what some termed as ‘infectious humour’, to ensure a truly spectacular and gratifying academic outcome. The scientific sessions were blended with graceful social evenings that put controversy in perspective and encouraged collegiality.

Iain’s students and fellows have gone on to their own successful careers in academic medicine. His influence has been a major one throughout the world of bone and calcium endocrinology. For his multiple academic contributions, Iain was elected to the fellowship of the Royal Society in 1996 and, in 2006, received the Buchanan medal in recognition of his distinguished contribution to the medical sciences generally. Of his many honours, he shared the Gairdner International Award with Harold Copp for the discovery of calcitonin, was awarded a doctorate of science by the University of London, an honorary doctorate by the University of Sheffield, and a doctor of medicine honoris causa by Turin University, and was elected as an honorary member of the American Association of Physicians. The organisers of the New York Skeletal Biology and Medicine Conferences have named one of the keynote lectures as the Iain MacIntyre memorial lecture.

Iain MacIntyre was a distinguished investigator, a revered educator, a respected administrator and, above all, a profoundly loyal friend. He was certainly a leader in the field of bone and mineral metabolism. He possessed a charm and humour that made him a great companion and collaborator. Iain was supported throughout his career by his charming wife Mabs (Mabel née Jamieson), who died in 2003. Mabs had an unrivalled and equally infectious humour that blended with her passion and commitment. Iain and Mabs are survived by their daughter, Fiona, a distinguished publisher, their son-in-law, Nigel, and grandson, James, all of whom live in London.

Mone Zaidi

(Volume XII, page web)

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