Professor Sir Philip Randle

Researcher into metabolism


Philip John Randle, biochemist: born Nuneaton, Warwickshire 16 July 1926; Medical and Surgical Officer, UCH 1951; Research Fellow in Biochemistry, Cambridge University 1952-55, University Lecturer in Biochemistry 1955-64; Fellow, Trinity Hall, Cambridge 1957-64, Director of Medical Studies 1957-64; Professor of Biochemistry, Bristol University 1964-75; Professor of Clinical Biochemistry, Oxford University 1975-93 (Emeritus); Fellow, Hertford College, Oxford 1975-93 (Emeritus); FRS 1983; Kt 1985; Fellow, UCL 1990; married 1952 Elizabeth Harrison (died 2004; two daughters, and one son and one daughter deceased); died Oxford 26 September 2006.

Philip Randle was one of the world's foremost researchers into mammalian metabolism. Many of his findings were concerned with insulin's role in metabolism and with the control of secretion of the hormone from the pancreatic islets of Langerhans beta-cells. The ideas generated by his investigations laid the foundations for countless subsequent other studies and have a direct bearing on the understanding of diabetes.

Randle was born in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, in 1926 and went to school at King Edward VI Grammar School, Nuneaton. He read Natural Sciences at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, gaining a First in Part II Biochemistry, and then Medicine at University College Hospital before returning to Cambridge to carry out his first research studies on insulin, under the supervision of Professor Frank Young. He was awarded his PhD in 1955 for a thesis entitled "Studies on the Metabolic Action of Insulin" and was immediately appointed Lecturer in Biochemistry at Cambridge University.

In 1964, Randle was appointed founding Professor and Chairman of the Department of Biochemistry at Bristol University. Under his leadership, the new department became one of the strongest in Britain and remains so to this day.

He went to Oxford as the first Professor of Clinical Biochemistry in 1975, and spent the rest of his career as head of the Nuffield Department of Clinical Biochemistry. Randle was content for the NDCB to remain a small unit, in contrast to Bristol. He took with him Steve Ashcroft, with whom he continued his interest in the control of insulin secretion, and Alan Kerbey, with whom he studied the regulation of the key metabolic enzyme pyruvate dehydrogenase, which had become a major interest for Randle because of its central importance in the inhibition of glucose utilisation by fatty acids. Dick Denton, another early research student of Randle's, who had been closely involved with Randle in work on adipose tissue, remained behind in Bristol, where he pursued and expanded the study of the metabolic effects of insulin.

The NDCB, despite its small size, was highly productive and gained an outstanding reputation in diabetes research under Randle's leadership. Randle retired officially in 1993 but maintained an active interest in the topics that had occupied him throughout his career and continued to act as editor for scientific journals.

His best-known contribution to diabetes research is probably the glucose-fatty acid cycle. This innovative hypothesis, first put forward in a paper in The Lancet in 1963 with Eric Newsholme, Nick Hales and Peter Garland, was based on the demonstration that fatty acids reduce the oxidation of sugar by muscle. Randle and his colleagues speculated that increased fat oxidation was responsible for the insulin resistance (i.e. failure of insulin to adequately increase glucose utilisation by muscle) associated with obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

A biochemical mechanism was proposed to account for this effect and in a succession of papers, evidence was presented to support the idea. Thus the new possibility was suggested that, instead of being solely a disorder of carbohydrate metabolism, the primary event in the development of insulin resistance could be excessive release of fatty acids from fat tissue. The fundamental importance of the glucose-fatty acid cycle in normal physiology is now fully accepted.

Randle also proposed a second major hypothesis in the 1960s to explain how increases in blood sugar levels may result in increases in the secretion of insulin. Based on their observations of the ability of various sugars to stimulate insulin secretion in vitro, Randle and Hal Coore proposed that it was the metabolism of glucose within the beta-cell that was in some way coupled to triggering insulin release.

This metabolic model for glucose-stimulated insulin release, given the name of the substrate-site hypothesis, was supported by a long series of studies with Ashcroft, first in Bristol and later in Oxford, and is now fully accepted. The details of the biochemical mechanisms involved have been elucidated, the molecular components identified and modern techniques of molecular biology and genetics brought to bear on analysis of the possible contribution of mutations in these components to the development of diabetes.

Philip Randle was an impressive figure, both physically and mentally. He possessed an extraordinary memory for facts. At scientific meetings, he could be formidable in his ability to quote chapter and verse to support his arguments. But he was also capable of great kindness and support for those he took under his wing, scientifically.

He received many honours for his research work. He was the first recipient of the Minkowski Prize of the European Diabetes Association in 1966; he was elected to the Royal Society in 1983; and he was knighted in 1985. In all his activities he was supported by his wife, Elizabeth, whom he married in 1952 and who died two years ago. He also suffered the loss of a son, Peter, who died in 1971 while still in his teens, and a daughter, Susan, who died last year. His two daughters Sally and Rosalind survive him.

Steve Ashcroft and Dick Denton

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss