Lives of the fellows

Donald Sinclair Munro

b.14 February 1925 d.12 May 2013
MB ChB Aberd(1947) MRCP(1949) MD(1957) FRCP(1967)

Donald Munro was an endocrinologist and Sir Arthur Hall professor of medicine at the University of Sheffield. He was born in London, the son of Donald Munro, a banker, and Flora McDonald Munro née McIntyre. He was always extremely proud of his Scottish ancestry and it was therefore no surprise that he chose the University of Aberdeen to study medicine. After qualifying in 1947, he was a house physician and then an assistant at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, obtaining the MRCP in 1949.

Between 1949 and 1951 Donald served in the RAMC as a junior medical specialist in Hong Kong and what was then Malaya. This was an experience which he much enjoyed, and his career in teaching medicine really started there. He returned to Aberdeen as a registrar after demobilisation, and was then appointed as a lecturer in pharmacology and therapeutics at the University of Sheffield in 1953. He was awarded an MD in 1957, and became a reader in endocrinology in 1965. Apart from a period between 1957 and 1958 as a Fulbright fellow, which was spent in the laboratory of Edwin B Astwood in Boston, Donald remained loyal to and proud of his adopted city, becoming the first Sir Arthur Hall professor of medicine and also heading the medical school for a period as dean. He was elected as an FRCP in 1967.

His initial research focused on sodium metabolism in endocrine disease, but he then began a career-long series of meticulous studies on the newly discovered long-acting thyroid stimulator (LATS), detected in the serum of patients with Graves’ disease; the duration of action of LATS demonstrated that this potentially aetiological molecule was not TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone). Donald’s group established difficult and painstaking assays for LATS and was one of the first to show that this stimulator was in fact an autoantibody, and that the levels of these thyroid-stimulating antibodies in pregnant women with Graves’ disease correlated closely with the probability of their offspring having neonatal thyrotoxicosis.

He was an excellent mentor and fostered the career of many endocrinologists, including Pat Kendall-Taylor, Bernard Rees Smith, Colin Hardisty and Steve Tomlinson. He was a president of the Thyroid Club, the endocrine section of the Royal Society of Medicine and the Association of Physicians of Great Britain and Ireland.

Donald was an exceptional endocrinologist who undertook a phenomenal clinical workload, while at the same time managing to undertake pioneering studies of the highest order with technically challenging bioassays. He established the clinical sciences centre at the Northern General Hospital site in 1979, which has now developed into an outstanding clinical research facility, and ensured that the Northern General Hospital developed as a major undergraduate teaching site. Donald also set up a novel computerised thyroid follow up scheme, which continues to this day. It was entirely typical of his academic dedication that he chose to go on a sabbatical in Sydney to the lab of Jack Martin, his close friend, after rather than before retirement; this was to complete his studies which showed that thyroid-stimulating antibodies can mediate effects through calcium signalling as well as cyclic AMP (adenosine monophosphate).

In retirement, Donald continued his keen love of gardening and history, especially relating to Scotland. His wife Helen (née Phemister), a consultant radiotherapist, whom he had married in 1951, predeceased him; he had two sons, two daughters and nine grandchildren, of whom he was extremely proud. Donald Munro died after several years of ill health.

Anthony Weetman

[British Thyroid Association – Recent Important News – accessed 7 February 2015; The Endocrinologist 2013 109 p.17 – accessed 7 February 2015; European Thyroid Association – Latest News – In Memory of Prof Donald Munro accessed 7 February 2015]

(Volume XII , page web)

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