Obituary: Dr Jonathan Levi

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The Independent Culture
JONATHAN LEVI was an inspired appointment as physician and gastro- enterologist to the Northwick Park Hospital site in 1969.

This was an experiment to bring together research and the treatment of common diseases in a new district general hospital and Medical Research Council (MRC)-sponsored Clinical Research Centre (CRC) built on waste land said to have once been Harrow School's golf course. Over the years Levi crossed seamlessly the divide between successful clinical practice and research, making many important scientific contributions to the literature. More recently he was pivotal in another first, the relocation of an entire hospital to the site, namely St Mark's Hospital, renowned for its expertise in large bowel disorders.

Born in 1933, the son of David Levi, a distinguished general surgeon, Jon Levi was educated at Westminster School, then studied Medicine at Trinity College, Cambridge, and Westminster Hospital, where he met his future wife, Mary. His credentials were impeccable for establishing a centre of gastroenterology - an MD thesis at the Royal Free Hospital on drug metabolism in the liver guided by Dame Sheila Sherlock, and a period with Sir Francis Avery Jones at the Central Middlesex Hospital.

He was appointed to Northwick Park directly from his Nuffield Fellowship at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, where he worked with Professor Irwin M. Arias. There he discovered two significant Z and Y intra- cellular liver proteins involved in bile and drug uptake. When Northwick Park opened in 1970, Levi began dismantling the planners' rather dismal scheme for centralised administration. He promulgated a system of speciality-based units directed to the highest standard of patient care and with each speciality enthusiastic to assist each other. He even persuaded the new gastroenterological surgeon to run a mixed medical-surgical ward with synchronous ward rounds - a novel arrangement, but effective.

Levi's talent was to translate bedside clinical observation into scientific research. He built up a large NHS and private clinical and endoscopic practice for patients with liver and gastrointestinal disorders, using it as a base for his scientific studies, yet worrying over perplex-ing clinical problems. His avuncular and jovial approach, and his sartorial elegance, encouraged patient confidence whilst injecting humour into consultations.

As a teacher his calls to "educate the young" resounded through the hospital. He establishing a thriving group of young clinical researchers. The clinical discoveries he inspired and published included the role of an elemental diet in the treatment of acute Crohn's disease. The realisation that a drug commonly used in the therapy of ulcerative colitis caused reversible male infertility brought happiness to many previously childless marriages. There were also original contributions on the small bowel complications of the ubiquitous non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and the effects of alcohol on red blood cell morphology.

Levi's vision and negotiating skills, with the underlying strength of gastroenterology on site, played a crucial role in attracting St Mark's Hospital to the campus when the MRC closed the Clinical Research Centre in 1994.

Although Levi was not overtly religious, his Judaism expressed itself in his passionate attachment to his family. He had been close to verifying that David Levi (1742-1801), a printer, scholar and tutor in classical Hebrew to George III, was his direct ancestor. He was a gifted photographer, connoisseur of Oriental carpets and he planted and nurtured a small woodland where he reared sheep.

He was forced to retire in October 1997 because of pancreatic cancer. His fascination with craftsmanship had made him a collector of treen (pre- Victorian British turned wooden objects), and a leisurely retirement objective was to write the first colour illustrated book on treen for 25 years. It was a race against time. In three months the scholarly and elegant Treen for the Table, was complete; it was published in April 1998.

In the same period he supervised the establishment of an art collection to enliven the corridor of his old ward area and was able to attend the opening of the modernised Jonathan Levi Clinical Lecture Theatre at Northwick Park and St Mark's, renamed to recognise his contribution to the growth of the site to a major player in British clinical medicine.

Alfred Jonathan Levi, physician and gastroenterologist: born London 27 July 1933; married 1964 Mary Cartmel (one son, three daughters); died London 4 January 1999.