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Research: the art of the possible


Conducting research in the army
Harold Lambert Physician
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Well, I suppose it started, as I said, at Cambridge but, after my house jobs, I went into the army, which was National Service for many years after the end of the war. It was two years National Service and three years on the reserve, when you did two weeks a year of extremely idle military service, and I had an old friend, he's dead now, Bob Torrance, who was a physiologist, a don of the dons, wonderful man. He was Oxford actually, but we met as students at UCH and he went to work at Porton, where the secret stuff was done, and also a lot of public stuff and he said there was this interesting place called the Microbiological Research Establishment, where there was really interesting work on microbiology and infection, which was in the public wheel and it was all published and everything and he said, 'Why don't you apply to go there?' So I applied for Porton first and the Far East second because I thought if I didn't get there, the last thing I wanted to do was to be stuck in a boring army camp in Germany, which was sort of the other thing you did mainly. So it was Porton and then I did two years full-time research, which led to my MD and all that sort of stuff and papers, and it was on how mucins promote infection. What happens is that in an experimental model if you inject, say, typhoid it might take, say 106 or 107 organisms to kill the mice. If you put it in with a bit of mucin, the lethal dosage is grossly diminished by say 103, 104, 105, 106 even, so, hundred, a thou... maybe 103, 104, and why did that happen? What was the process that was allowing the organism to get going? And anyway that was what I worked on for two years.

[Q] Was that your concern? I mean, was it something that you found yourself interested in or was it a programme already going?

No. No, it was a new thing. The boss of the place offered me three projects. I can't remember the third one but one was a very, very biochemical thing in pharmacology. I knew, I knew I definitely wouldn't be up to that. The second one I can't remember what it was, but the third, that sounded interesting to me and it was very interesting. It was.

British doctor Harold Lambert (1926-2017) spent his career tackling infectious diseases, helping in the development of pyrazinamide as an effective treatment for tuberculosis. He also published work on the rational use of antibiotics and was a trustee and medical advisor for the Meningitis Research Foundation.

Listeners: Roger Higgs

Roger Higgs was an inner city GP for 30 years in south London, UK, and is Emeritus Professor of General Practice at Kings College London, where he set up the department.

He gained scholarships in classics at Cambridge but changed to medicine after a period of voluntary work in Kenya in 1962. He was Harold Lambert's registrar for 18 months in the early 1970s, the most influential and exciting episode in his hospital training. He set up his own practice in 1975. He helped to establish medical ethics as a practical and academic subject through teaching, writing and broadcasting, and jointly set up the 'Journal of Medical Ethics' in 1975.

His other work included studies in whole person assessment and narrative in general practice and development work in primary medical care: innovations here included intermediate care centres, primary care assessment in accident and emergency departments, teaching internal medicine in general practice and establishing counselling services in medicine.

He was made MBE in 1987 for this development work and now combines bioethics governance, teaching and writing with an arts based retirement.

Tags: Oxford, University College Hospital

Duration: 2 minutes, 26 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008