Lives of the fellows

Eric Newmarch Allott

b.28 May 1899 d.31 December 1980
BA Oxon(1920) BSc(1923) MA(1924) BM BCh(1925) MRCP(1929) FRCP(1936) FRIC(now FRSC)(1950) DM(1951)

Eric Newmarch Allott, the elder son of Henry Newmarch Allott, a civil engineer, and Helen, daughter of William Smith, a timber merchant, was born at Stretford, Lancashire. A foundation scholar at Manchester Grammar School, he went to Balliol College, Oxford, in 1916 as a Brackenbury scholar but served as lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps (later Royal Air Force) and returned to Oxford in 1919. While a demonstrator in organic chemistry at Oxford he began his medical studies, partly at Oxford and partly (for anatomy) at the University of Heidelberg. He completed his clinical studies at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, qualifying in 1925.

After a period as house physician to the medical professorial unit at Bart’s, he was awarded a Beit memorial fellowship which took him to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, to work under Professor (later Sir Frederick) Gowland Hopkins. Following a brief appointment in 1928 as assistant physiologist at Sheffield Royal Hospital, he became in 1929 chief assistant to the medical professorial unit at Bart’s.

In 1931 he was appointed by the London County Council (LCC) as group pathologist and director of the Group Laboratory at Lewisham Hospital, London, a position which he held until his retirement in 1963. During the first nine years he expanded the pathology service from a single laboratory with two technicians, serving seven hospitals in south-east London, until, in 1940, his staff consisted of two assistant pathologists and twelve technicians, providing a specialized pathology service for the seventy-odd LCC hospitals. He was transfusion officer at Lewisham Hospital and started the blood donor service which led to the creation of the Lewisham Transfusion Centre. By 1947 the Central Pathological Laboratory had four specialist pathologists and four senior registrars.

Allott became a member of the Biochemical Society in 1925, serving on the committee from 1948 to 1952, and was elected directly to the fellowship of the Royal Institute of Chemistry (now Royal Society of Chemistry) in 1950, serving on the council from 1962 to 1965. He was a founder member of the Association of Clinical Pathologists, serving as president in 1955 and chairman of council from 1957 to 1961. He was a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Clinical Pathology until his death; latterly in an advisory capacity.

Like several other pathologists with clinical backgrounds he was not initially in favour of the formation of the College of Pathology and would have preferred a Faculty of Pathologists within the Royal College of Physicians. When the importance of the College in the training and teaching of pathologists became evident he accepted founder fellowship and served on the council from 1963 to 1966.

From his retirement in 1963 until 1968 he was adviser in chemical pathology to the Ministry of Health and played an important part in setting up the Guy’s Hospital poisons unit at New Cross Hospital in 1955, and was chairman of the Steering Committee for the unit until his death. His attachment to the medical professorial unit at Bart’s was undoubtedly responsible for his strong clinical approach to the problems of pathology; he was frequently asked by his colleagues to visit the wards and to express an opinion in relation to metabolic disorders, especially of abnormalities of electrolyte balance.

As Beit memorial research fellow from 1925 to 1927, under the direction of Gowland Hopkins, he studied in detail some earlier inconsistent observations of Hopkins on the influence of glutathione on the oxidation of linseed oil and linoleic acid. Later he investigated the rates of disappearance of a, ß and 7-glucose after injection into the circulation of rats.

He played an important role in fostering scientific clinical medicine at a time when the scientific basis of medicine had not progressed to the creation of clinical research units. At a time when few specialized chemical pathological laboratories were available for estimating ‘electrolytes’, other than plasma chloride and bicarbonate, and probably stimulated by McCance’s work on experimental salt deficiency, he studied plasma levels and urinary excretion of sodium and potassium and published a series of important papers in this field. The most important of these described the low plasma potassium concentrations associated with familial periodic paralysis.

He also investigated the effect of various therapeutic regimes on the low sodium and high potassium concentrations in the plasma in Addison’s disease. He later demonstrated retention of sodium and potassium without renal disease in five patients with brain damage. His presidential address to the section of experimental medicine of the Royal Society of Medicine, in 1945, was an excellent survey, up to date for the time, of electrolyte changes in nephritis, diabetic ketosis, alkalosis and Addison’s disease.

In 1951, the mineralocorticoid deoxycorticosterone (doca) and the glucocorticoid cortisone had been synthesised, and Allott showed that cortisone was more effective than the adrenal extract Eucortone, doca and/or glucose saline in the treatment of crises in hypopituitarism. He contributed sections on ‘Haemolytic Disease of the Newborn’ and on ‘Laboratory Aids to Diagnosis and Treatment’ in the 1951 edition of Modern Trends in Paediatrics.

Subsequent publications were concerned with hypernatraemia and hyperchloraemia in bulbar poliomyelitis and in the ‘stiff man syndrome’; in the latter condition plasma inorganic phosphate paradoxically increased when glucose or insulin was administered.

He began his studies of the clinical importance of the Rh factor in 1941. In 1946, when routine testing of women for the Rh factor was not widely available because of slender resources, he wrote with CA Holman an LCC memorandum on the Rh factor for the use of the LCC staff. Three years later, again with Holman, he published a careful study of 200 Rh negative women, demonstrating the importance of screening during pregnancy to permit early diagnosis and then early induction of labour or exchange transfusion.

His presidential address, ‘The Challenge of the Future’, to the Association of Clinical Pathologists in 1955 forecast many trends, including the organization of the laboratory, the problems of quality control, and the setting up of specialist laboratories (such as reference laboratories and supra-regional assay services).

Allott was a man of singular modesty and great kindness, readily accessible to his colleagues, particularly his juniors, taking a continuing interest in the careers of the many who had spent a period of training in his laboratory. As well as gardening, philately, and the study of languages, he was interested in railways and had put this to practical, if brief, use when he worked as a volunteer signalman and railway guard during the general strike of 1926.

In 1930 he married Edith Mary Kydd, who supported him throughout his long and distinguished career until her death in 1974. He subsequently lived, contentedly, near his daughter and her family at Oxford.

CH Gray
NF Maclagan

[, 1981, 282, 394, 746; Lancet, 1981, 1, 286, 510; Times, 8 Jan 1981]

(Volume VII, page 8)

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