Obituary: Professor Michael Hull

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The Independent Culture
MICHAEL HULL was one of the world's experts in reproductive medicine. His interest in the subject was both professional and personal - his greatest joy was his private life as a husband and father, a love that drove his concern for the infertile.

The internationally acclaimed Centre for Reproductive Medicine he created at Bristol University has gone on to make outstanding advances in clinical treatment and research, but the achievement that meant as much to him as anything was that, thanks to the expertise of him and his colleagues, more than 1,500 babies have been born to couples treated at the centre who would otherwise have been childless.

Mike Hull was born in India in 1939, the son of a Major in the Army's medical services. The family returned to Britain in 1946 when his father was demobilised after the Second World War and Mike was educated at the Roman Catholic Ratcliffe College. A combination of his father's example as an honourable agnostic and the intellectual approach to Roman Catholicism he gained from his school's teaching order had a lifelong influence on the clear ethical principles he later brought to medical practice.

He trained as an undergraduate at the (now Royal) London Hospital Medical College where, he would wryly admit, his studies rather got in the way of his passion for sport, particularly hockey and cricket. He was captain of the college hockey team which won the Inter-Hospitals Cup in a field strongly represented at international level after his qualifications were delayed by exam re-takes. He later played for Lancashire.

His growing interest in obstetrics and, later, gynaecology took him to the Women's Hospital in Liverpool before he went on to study cancer pathology at Charing Cross Hospital. He then took up a lectureship at St Mary's Hospital in London developing research on foetal/ placental endocrinology.

It was during his St Mary's days that three months in Israel with Professor Bruno Lunenfeld decided his future career and he returned to St Mary's to work with Dr - now Professor - Howard Jacobs in what proved to be a formative time in developing reproductive endocrinology. The two shared important contributions to knowledge and clinical advances in the field.

Hull moved to Bristol University in 1976 as a Consultant Senior Lecturer in Obstetrics and Gynaecology. Two years later the birth of Louise Brown, the world's first IVF baby, heralded a major change in his work. He realised the great potential of in vitro fertilisation both in treatment and research and began work in this highly specialised field with initial research grants.

He was determined to set up a treatment service at Bristol but when he was reluctantly forced to concede that NHS funds were not going to be available, he decided to set up the independent University of Bristol Centre for Reproductive Medicine, funded by income from private clinical services.

It was founded in 1983 on Hull's unswerving principle that the best possible clinical services to diagnose and treat infertile couples should run side- by-side with basic research to improve knowledge of the causes of infertility. Research, he insisted, fostered a questioning and critical attitude in every aspect of the centre's clinical services so that standards would reach new heights.

At the heart of all his efforts lay Hull's deeply held sympathy for infertile women and men and his desire to help as many as possible achieve their dream of parenthood, coupled with an equally strong concern for the welfare of any offspring born through IVF and, later, ICSI and other treatments.

He campaigned tirelessly for more NHS funds and, at the same time, strove to increase awareness among both professionals and the general public of the scale of infertility in Britain. He transformed the British Fertility Society from a closed club of 75 into an educational society based on research which today has more than 1,000 members.

His landmark paper "The Population Study of Causes, Treatment and Outcome of Infertility", published in the British Medical Journal in 1985, revealed that one in six couples take medical advice on infertility problems. Now, at last, professionals and the public realised the scale of what had until then been an unquantified, intensely private world of distress.

Hull was appointed Professor of Reproductive Medicine and Surgery at Bristol University in 1989. He made Bristol internationally famous for its contribution to knowledge and practice of infertility medicine and established facilities for basic laboratory studies of function and disorders of sperm, egg and fertilisation underlying the causes of infertility.

Hull loved sharing his growing knowledge. He was a valued speaker at medical conferences across the world and an outstanding teacher. He also took enormous pride in the enthusiasm and achievements of his colleagues and spoke of the centre's staff as his wider family.

Some of the very best moments were the huge baby parties he and his staff organised in the beautiful setting of Ashton Court Mansion, just outside Bristol. Hundreds of couples and their children born thanks to the centre's efforts would travel from across the West Country, South Wales and beyond to share their delight in parenthood. Hull played the delighted host to perfection as children scampered around him.

Hull's passion for sport continued throughout his life - he once said that his only regret was that clinical duties had restricted his hockey playing - and, despite bilateral hip replacements, he regularly played tennis. He took a keen interest in theatre, opera and art. But above everything was his delight in the family life he, his wife and their three daughters shared together.

It was typical that after Hull was diagnosed with cancer a few months ago, he set aside a portion of his remaining time mounting one final campaign to shame the NHS in the South West into funding more infertility treatment. He felt it scandalous that so many of the centre's patients had to make huge financial sacrifices to receive the treatments they needed to become parents.

Michael George Raworth Hull, obstetrician, gynaecologist and reproductive endocrinologist: born Ranikhetin, India 2 July 1939; Registrar in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, St Mary's Hospital, London 1969-72, Lecturer and Honorary Senior Registrar 1972-76; Senior Lecturer, Bristol University 1976-84, Reader 1984-89, Professor of Reproductive Medicine and Surgery 1989- 99; married 1976 Griselda Goodden (three daughters); died Bristol 22 November 1999.