Obituary: Professor Peter Thorogood

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PETER THOROGOOD was one of the foremost developmental biologists of his generation, gaining respect internationally for his research work on the development of cranio-facial structures in the embryo and foetus, and on the origin of birth defects of the head and neck.

In 1989 he took the bold step of leaving his senior lectureship at Southampton University to take up a newly created position as Professor of Oral Biology at the Institute of Dental Surgery, at the Eastman Dental Hospital in London. His remit was challenging in the extreme: to establish developmental biology as a bridge to link the emerging science of human genetics with the clinical disciplines of dentistry and maxillo-facial surgery.

So successful was Thorogood at this innovative, enabling role that, in 1992, he was persuaded to leave the Institute of Dental Surgery in order to take on a similar task, becoming Professor of Development Biology around the corner at the Institute of Child Health and Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children.

He worked tirelessly to promote inter-disciplinary research at the joint institution and played a pivotal role in establishing the strong link between scientific and clinical research that is now much admired by similar institutions in the UK. Earlier this year he was elected to be Vice-Dean of the Institute of Child Health, a post he had been due to take up this autumn.

Thorogood published extensively in scientific journals and authored and edited several books, the most recent being Embryos, Genes and Birth Defects (1997). This volume is a tribute to his vision of an integrated approach to research into birth defects, bridging the gap between the laboratory and the clinic. He supervised many students through their PhD studies as well looking after the research projects of numerous undergraduates.

He received considerable research funding from many bodies, including an ongoing grant from the Medical Research Council to improve our understanding of human embryonic development in the hope of identifying new methods for prevention of birth defects. His efforts in this area leave a rich legacy for developmental biologists in the UK and beyond.

He contributed to the scientific and academic community in a much broader sense than solely through his research, however. He was one of life's great enthusiasts, filling students with a desire to participate in the fascinating research area of embryonic development and building bridges with colleagues in clinical and related scientific areas.

Thorogood was born in 1947, went to school in Essex and studied for a degree in Zoology at the University of Aberystwyth. As an undergraduate, he became fascinated by the mysterious processes that build an embryo from its simple beginnings in the one-celled egg. He worked for a PhD under the supervision of Professor Richard Hinchliffe, studying in what was, at that time, the newly emerging discipline of developmental biology.

Between 1971 and 1978, Thorogood worked as a research scientist in the Universities of London, Nova Scotia, Glasgow and Oxford before, in 1979, moving to Southampton University as Lecturer, and later as Senior Lecturer, in biology.

He gained a great respect for undergraduate students and their teaching during this period, an experience that was to permeate the rest of his career. He always took the utmost care over the many scientific meetings and student courses that he organised, a fact that was always appreciated by the students who benefited from the warmth and concern that emanated from his teaching.

Peter Thorogood loved the outdoor life and was a keen walker and climber. He especially loved walking in Wales and winter climbing in Scotland, and recent ventures had included a trip to the Italian Alps and climbing in the Himalayas. Shortly before his death, he enjoyed a family walking holiday in the Lake District after which he met up with a friend to go climbing in the Swiss Alps. While descending the 4,000m Jungfrau mountain he fell and sustained fatal injuries.

Andrew Copp

Peter Victor Thorogood, developmental biologist: born Ilford, Essex 23 July 1947; Lecturer, then Senior Lecturer in Biology, Southampton University 1979-89; Professor of Oral Biology, Institute of Dental Surgery, London 1989-92; Professor of Developmental Biology, Institute of Child Health, London 1992-98; married 1979 Lyn Robertson (two sons); died Jungfrau, Switzerland 25 August 1998.