Lives of the fellows

David Robert Hadden

b.24 May 1936 d.26 February 2014
MB BCh BAO Belf(1959) MRCP Edin(1962) MD(1963) FRCP Edin(1970) FRCP(1987)

David Hadden, a consultant physician at the Royal Victoria Hospital and an honorary professor of endocrinology at Queen’s University Belfast, was one of the first to highlight the role of diet in type two diabetes. He also correctly predicted the rise in the incidence of type two diabetes due to modern Western lifestyles.

Hadden was born in Portadown, County Armagh, into a well-established medical family. His great grandfather, also David, was a doctor in Skibbereen, County Cork, where he treated victims of the Irish potato famine. His grandfather settled in Northern Ireland when the boat he was travelling in as a ship’s doctor ran aground. Hadden’s father, Robert Evans Hadden, continued the family tradition and worked as a doctor in the same practice as his father and his sister. Hadden’s mother was Marianne Baird Hadden née Johnston.

He was educated at Campbell College in Belfast and then went on to study medicine at Queen’s University Belfast. He qualified in 1959. He was a house physician and house surgeon at the Royal Victoria Hospital, and then decided to train in endocrinology and diabetes, also in Belfast. After a clinical research fellowship using the new technique of radioimmunossay to measure growth hormone, he travelled to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore as a Fulbright scholar. He wrote up his findings in the journal Nature (‘A growth hormone binding protein in normal human serum’ Nature. 1964 Jun 27;202:1342-3). Though dismissed at the time, the paper is now widely recognised as one of the first descriptions of this important regulatory protein.

He continued his interest in growth and nutrition, as a Medical Research Council fellow at the Infantile Malnutrition Research Unit in Kampala, Uganda, and then in the department of experimental medicine in Cambridge. He showed that babies with kwashiorkor are insulin resistant, with abnormally high blood glucose levels and insulin concentrations.

In 1967 he was appointed as a consultant physician in the metabolic unit at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, where he remained until his retirement in 2001. In 1972 he set up the Belfast Diet Study, which showed that strict adherence to diet alters the progression of type two diabetes. He later collaborated with the UK Prospective Diabetes Study, which showed that control of blood glucose levels can help prevent the complications associated with type two diabetes. He also developed an innovative joint diabetes-obstetric service, which has been copied nationally.

He was given an honorary chair at Queen’s university Belfast. In 1997 he gave the Jørgen Pedersen lecture of the Diabetic Pregnancy Study Group of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes, and in 2006 the Norbert Freinkel lecture of the American Diabetes Association. In 2012 he was presented with a lifetime achievement award by the Irish Endocrine Society.

Outside medicine, he and his wife Diana, an accident and emergency physician and artist whom he married in 1967, were involved in a project to bring back linen production to Northern Ireland. They grew flax in a field at their cottage in County Down, and arranged for the whole process, including spinning and weaving, to be completed in Northern Ireland.

David Hadden was survived by his widow Diana, their son, Robert, a neurologist, and their two daughters, Katharine and Emily.

RCP editor

[The Telegraph 22 April 2014 – accessed 15 February 2016; BMJ 2014 348 2528 – accessed 15 February 2016; Ulster Med J. 2014 May:83(2)78-79 – accessed 15 February 2016; Lancet. 2014 Sep 6;384(9946):850 – accessed 15 February 2016]

(Volume XII, page web)

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