Obituary: Professor Peter Daniel

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The Independent Culture
SUCCESS IN scientific research often results from beavering away at an ever-narrowing strip of knowledge. This was not Peter Daniel's way: his was an 18th-century polymath's enthusiasm for an extraordinary range of subjects in medical science. Indeed, he was made a Fellow of four royal colleges on the strength of his published work.

He was born in 1910 in London, where his father was Senior Surgeon at Charing Cross Hospital. After a rather quirky education at Westminster School, Cambridge, Oxford, Edinburgh, and Charing Cross Medical School (through idleness he was expelled from two of these), he qualified in medicine at the age of 30.

He began as a pathologist at the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford and then as a neuropathologist to Sir Hugh Cairns, Professor of Neurosurgery at Oxford. Daniel became an astute diagnostician of brain tumours and nervous system diseases and established regular brain-cuts, always well attended by pathologists and clinicians at which post-mortem specimens were discussed. He ran these events with humour and erudition until he retired.

In the evenings and weekends, he followed other interests. With Marjorie Prichard he studied the control of blood flow to the kidney, which had important clinical implications. This work was published in 1947 as Studies of the Renal Circulation, immediately repudiated by other workers, and it was some years before American research rediscovered the observations.

Indeed, one of the threads running through Daniel's work was his interest in the anatomy and physiology of the minutest blood vessels of various organs. He had remarkable surgical skills which enabled him to inject very small blood vessels, making them solid and photogenic. His studies on the vascular connection between the brain and the pituitary gland proved fundamental to many research projects. This work was drawn together in a monograph in 1975 (Studies of the Hypothalamus and the Pituitary Gland), with Marjorie Prichard, of which he was particularly proud. Much of this work was carried out in the Oxford Observatory - the beautiful 18th-century building which is now Green College.

In 1957 Daniel was appointed to the chair of Neuropathology at the Institute of Psychiatry in London. He was a good chief, always available (he did not like travelling abroad), very generous and good at getting grants. There were departmental expeditions, for instance to the London Zoo to take the brain and eye muscles of an elephant that had died there. This brain and skull were shown to the Queen Mother at the opening of the new building of the Institute of Psychiatry. The picture appeared in the local paper with the caption, "The Queen Mother, discussing the patients' food with the head cook".

Daniel became interested in scrapie, a fatal disease of sheep of a then unknown cause, which eventually turned out to be a brain disease - a spongiform encephalopathy. With Elizabeth Beck he showed that the brain changes were similar to those in Kuru, a disease affecting the natives of New Guinea, probably transmitted through cannibalism, and to Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD).

Major experimental work on these diseases was carried out by Carlton Gadjucek and his team in the United States, but the work of Beck and Daniel was crucial in proving that these conditions could be transmitted, within and across species. The "agent" was unlike any other infectious agent then known. This was some 15-20 years before BSE (the bovine form of spongiform encephalopathy) appeared in Britain.

Even after moving to London Daniel continued to do physiological and anatomical work with Professor David Whitteridge in Oxford, on the sense organs of the muscles that move the eye. There were other interests: he was one of the first to describe the regeneration of neurones in the central nervous system; he wrote on the secretion of hormones (especially thyroid hormones and insulin), and on the transport of amino acids into the brain, muscles and liver - work which demanded much skill as well as thought. He also contributed to neuropathology, particularly to the study of head injuries and tuberculous meningitis (Oxford was the first centre to treat this then incurable disease with streptomycin).

He inspired affection and loyalty - not from absolutely everyone - and demanded high standards for both published work and material presented to learned societies. Many important papers came out of his departments in both Oxford and London.

Daniel was the best of company and a remarkable conversationalist. He could always produce some original - often scurrilous - slant on any subject. His favourite place on the planet was the Garrick Club; there he seemed not only to know everybody, but was often arranging something for someone. Sometimes this was medical advice, for he knew an extraordinary number of doctors. He had been President of the Neuropathological Society, the Osler Club, the Medical Society of London and the Harveian Society. His second favourite institution was the Physiological Society, of which he became President and was elected a life member.

After he retired from the Institute of Psychiatry he was given bench space at the Royal College of Surgeons and St Thomas' Hospital, but without colleagues and a department he did not thrive. Around his 80th birthday, after a series of illnesses, he lost his joie de vivre and took to his bed. He was cared for devotedly in the last years by his wife Marion. He had always been busy - the discovery that this was no longer possible deeply upset him. Peter Daniel was a person who brought remarkable gifts to the world; many will be saddened by his death.

John Henderson and Sabina Strich

Peter Maxwell Daniel, neuropathologist and physiologist: born London 14 November 1910; Honorary Consultant Pathologist, Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford 1948-56; Senior Research Officer, Oxford University 1949-56; Honorary Consultant in Neuropathology to the Army at Home 1952-77; Professor of Neuropathology, London University, at the Institute of Psychiatry, Maudsley Hospital 1957-76 (Emeritus); married first Sally Shelford (two sons, three daughters; marriage dissolved), second Dawn Bosanquet (one son; marriage dissolved), third Marion Bosanquet; died London 19 November 1998.