Lives of the fellows

Hubert Armand Sissons

b.24 November 1920 d.13 September 2008
MB BS Melbourne(1944) MD(1970) FRCP(1975)

Hubert Armand Sissons was chairman of the department of pathology at the Hospital for Joint Diseases and the Orthopedic Institute, New York, and a former professor of morbid anatomy, London. He was born in Canterbury, a suburb of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, the son of Alfred Thomas Stanley Sissons, director of studies at the College of Pharmacy, Melbourne, and Jessie Taylor (née Tope) Sissons. After attending Kew State School, he went to Scotch College, Melbourne, where he was a pupil from 1932 until 1938. He was an excellent all-round student, gaining first class honours in chemistry and music in his university entrance examinations, as well as honours in English, physics and biology. He thought seriously about a career in music, but finally decided on medicine. He obtained a government senior scholarship and entered the University of Melbourne, graduating in 1944.

He became a resident physician and pathologist at the Alfred Hospital, Melbourne. He worked closely with Rupert Willis [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.608], then a pathologist at the hospital, who encouraged Sissons to investigate bone pathology. Whilst at the Alfred Sissons co-authored, with Peter MacCallum (later Sir Peter), professor of pathology at Melbourne, and others, a landmark article, the first to describe Mycobacterium ulcerans infection (‘A new mycobacterial infection of man’, J Pathol Bacteriol. 1948 Jan;60[1]:93-122). M ulcerans is now known as a disease of worldwide importance and, after tuberculosis and leprosy, the third most common cause of serious mycobacterial morbidity.

In 1945, Willis became the Sir William Collins professor in human and comparative pathology at the Royal College of Surgeons, London, and a year later Sissons followed him, as Prophit research scholar. His task was to make a histological assessment of every tumour added to the pathological department of the museum. He became particularly interested in the types of tumour arising in bone and made a special study of newly developed bone in these tumours by using a radiographic technique.

In May 1949, Sissons was appointed to take charge of the newly established department of morbid anatomy at the University of London’s Postgraduate Medical Federation’s Institute of Orthopaedics at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital. He remained at the institute until 1979, becoming professor of morbid anatomy in 1972. Here he trained a generation of pathologists, carried out research and established a museum of specimens.

He obtained his MD by thesis in 1970, based on a chapter written for Systematic pathology (London, Longmans, Green & Co., 1966), the leading textbook of general pathology, edited by G P Wright [Munk’s Roll, Vol.V, p.461] and W St Clair Symmers [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XI, p.571]. The thesis contains a remarkable series of black and white photographs and photomicrographs, including radiographic photographs. These were taken at a time when such illustrations were still very much in a developmental stage and their production required much technical expertise.

In 1951 Sissons was awarded a fellowship to spend a year studying in the United States with Hermann Lisco at Northwestern University in Chicago. He also visited Henry L Jaffe in New York, then one of the leading bone pathologists in the United States, with whom he had been corresponding. In the following years he made frequent lecture trips to the USA, and he eventually succeeded Jaffe as chairman of the department of pathology and laboratory medicine at the Hospital for Joint Diseases and the Orthopedic Institute. In New York, Sissons helped establish the New York Bone Club for physicians to meet and exchange knowledge. He returned to the UK in 1990 and finished his working career at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund Laboratories.

Sissons was a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, and was a foundation fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists. He was a member of the World Health Organization (WHO) bone tumour panel, and was president of the Association of Clinical Pathologists and the World Association of Societies of Pathology. In all Sissons wrote 68 papers in refereed journals. He was co-author, with F Schajowicz and L V Ackerman, of the WHO standard reference publication Histological typing of bone tumours (Geneva, WHO, 1972) and co-author (with Ronald O Murray and H B S Kemp) of the leading textbook of bone diseases, Orthopaedic diagnosis: clinical, radiological and pathological coordinates (Berlin, NY, Springer-Verlag, 1984).

Sissons married Patricia Mary née Lovett, a nurse, in 1945 and they had a son, John, and a daughter, Mary. After Pat died in 1998, Hubert moved to Oxford to be near his daughter and her family, but continued his association with the Research Fund Laboratories in London. He also regularly visited his son in Cornwall, until John died of bowel cancer in 2007. Sissons died a year later in Oxford.

John Hayman

[The Bulletin of the Royal College of Pathologists, No.148 October 2009, pp.319-320]

(Volume XII, page web)

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