Obituary: Dr John Paul
Saturday 02 July 1994
JOHN PAUL, director of the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research, near Glasgow, from 1970 to 1987, was known, well-liked and highly respected across a wide spectrum of scientists engaged in research into the cellular and molecular biology of normal development and of cancer.
Paul qualified initially in medicine at Glasgow University, in 1944, then went on to complete a PhD there in biochemistry, a relatively new discipline in those days. Paul's ability to recognise areas of biomedical research at the forefront of scientific progress was to be a hallmark of his whole career. After two years in Edinburgh and New York, he joined the Biochemistry Department at Glasgow as Director of the Tissue Culture Laboratory in 1953.
Paul was among the first scientists in the world to realise that the culture of human and mammalian cells in the laboratory would become a key tool in the development of research into the biology of cells. He helped to advance this technique, ran several courses to pass it on to others, and wrote what became the authoritative text on the subject for many years. He also recognised the importance of understanding how genes regulate the synthesis of proteins and, with his colleagues, was the first to demonstrate tissue-specific differences. Armed with new knowledge on mechanisms of cellular regulation, he directed his team into the study of abnormal development in cancer, employing and developing with them the new tools of genetic engineering.
His efforts were recognised internationally, as exemplified by his many invitations to present at international meetings and the acclaim attributed to his scientific publications. During his most productive years his publications were among the 1,000 most-cited scientific papers in the world. His achievements were ultimately recognised by Glasgow University by the award of the honorary DSc.
Although his outstanding career in research was sufficient to earn him a place in scientific history, he also achieved distinction by founding in 1970 the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research, one of only four such institutes in Britain, and an internationally acclaimed centre for excellence in cancer research. The institute was originally housed in the Cancer Research Laboratories of the Royal Beatson Memorial Hospital in Glasgow, but Paul moved the Institute to new, purpose-built premises in 1976, obtaining support from the Wolfson Foundation to construct a new and sophisticated laboratory, suitable for the highly advanced technology now required. Not only did Paul conceive the idea of a research institute, and recognise the need for suitable accommodation, he also proposed the fundamental design of the laboratory, which remains a classic example of ergonomic
Paul was supported throughout his career by many prestigious granting authorities, such as the Medical Research Council, the Scottish Hospitals Endowment Research Trust, and the National Institutes of Health of the USA. Latterly, he was awarded substantial and continued support by the Cancer Research Campaign. As well as expertly directing the research of the institute, he supervised the administration with equal skill, earning admiration and respect from those who worked with him, regardless of the duty that they performed.
Throughout the years of his increasing recognition by the scientific community, he remained approachable, was a sympathetic listener and had an almost legendary store of solid common sense to defuse any crisis. He was a boyish figure, even though grey-haired at an early age, and quick to share a joke. He earned respect without being domineering, largely by exercising excellent judgement of people and situations.
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