Obituary: Professor Albert Latner
Thursday 17 December 1992
ALBERT LATNER was a clinical biochemist of renown. He will be remembered by generations of medical students in Newcastle upon Tyne for the unabashed way in which he taught the importance of biochemical tests in the investigation and management of disease. He was well known to clinical biochemists working in hospital laboratories in all five continents who as part of their training, took the M Sc Course in Clinical Biochemistry which he set up in 1965 and which continues to the present day.
After training initially as a chemist at Imperial College, Latner recognised that his future lay in medical science. He moved to Liverpool Medical School first as a lecturer in Physiology and then as an undergraduate medical student. After he qualified in medicine in 1939, war service in the RAMC interrupted his career plans. However, the clinical material he encountered in the Middle East provided fruitful experience for his later researches into liver disease, for which he mas awarded his MD in 1948.
He was a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of Pathologists and the Royal Society of Chemistry. His D Sc from the Faculty of Medicine in Liverpool was his reward for contributions to knowledge of the biochemical disturbances in liver disease and to our understanding of the actions of Vitamin B12 . Although essentially a laboratory man he liked nothing better than being consulted by physician or surgeon colleagues. He had sound clinical skills which he applied in caring for members of the Jewish community in Newcastle.
As a research worker he had a wide variety of interests, some might say too many. One of his failings was not to capitalise on his discoveries and do a thorough follow-up of the initial observations; he preferred to move on to new ground, ever hopeful that some new finding would warrant his election to the Royal Society.
Much of Latner's research in the laboratory was concerned with electrophoresis techniques. In the Fifties he was involved with the development of a prototype densitometer for paper electrophoresis strips which was eventually marketed as the Joyce-Loebl Chromograph, a forerunner of the highly successful Chromoscan. He then used starch gel electrophoresis to visualise and study the isoenzyme patterns of human tissues and body fluids. He promoted the use of such patterns in the investigation of disease. Perhaps his most important technological achievement, and the one for which he did not receive just recognition, was the technique of isoelectric focusing in acrylamide gels that he developed with Gordon Dale. The two-dimensional electrophoresis-electrofocusing technique they described was taken up by others and is now one of the most widely used high-resolution techniques available for the study of protein heterogeneity.
His contributions to the field of isoenzymes were recognised by invitations to contribute chapters to Advances in Clinical Chemistry and Recent Advances in Chemical Pathology as well as to co-author with me the monograph Isoenzymes in Biology and Medicine (1968). On the wider front he was asked to prepare the seventh edition of Cantarow and Trumper's Clinical Biochemistry, which he completed in 1975, and with Oscar Bodansky he co-edited Advances in Clinical Chemistry from 1971 to 1984. He was a founder member of the Association of Clinical Biochemists and its President from 1961 to 1963.
The latter part of Latner's career was concerned with cancer research. His success in applying protein separation techniques to the investigation of the biochemical disturbances in cancer resulted in the North of England Cancer Research Campaign funding the construction, equipping and staffing of a superb Cancer Research Unit which he directed for 10 years until his retirement in 1968.
Albert Latner was a proud man, not only of his own achievements, but also of those who he helped to develop their careers. He believed he led the best Department of Clinical Biochemistry in the country and he was not averse to expressing this view to those who visited his laboratories.
Not long after his retirement, his wife Gertrude, whom he met as a medical student in Liverpool, developed cancer and suffered a long illness. Following her death in 1986 Albert concentrated his efforts on his garden and the plants he nurtured in his greenhouse, being ever keen to show off his pineapples. However, it was not long before an obstructive liver disease set in, ironic for one who had devoted much of his career to studying liver dysfunction and the biochemical management of liver failure. Despite valiant efforts by staff at Freeman Hospital he died five days after his 80th birthday.
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