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

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
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

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Maths Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

Maths Teacher

£22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week