Obituary: Professor Alex Kellie

Alex Edwards Kellie, biochemist: born 4 January 1911, Professor of Biochemistry, London University 1972-76 (Emeritus); married 1943 Dorothy Romans (two daughters); died 14 March 1993.

IN SPITE of the ever-increasing range of subjects encompassed by modern biochemistry the discipline has held together remarkably well. The one exception is possibly the chemistry and metabolism of the steroids, even though their role as hormones, both intrinsically and in terms of their effects on muscle growth and sexual characteristics, is so important. Those who have specialised in this field are, therefore, particularly valued by their colleagues and Alex Kellie was such a one.

Immediately after the war Kellie joined the Courtauld Institute of Biochemistry, at the Middlesex Hospital, to work under the Director, then Professor Charles Dodds, who had in the 1930s discovered the artificial hormone stilboestrol, which is much used in controlling cancer of the prostate. After setting up the routine chemical pathology laboratory Kellie moved into clinical research and collaborated with Dr (now Sir) John Nabarro in the development of the use of steroid hormone measurements in body fluids in the diagnosis and treatment of a variety of endocrine disorders.

Kellie became interested in the nature of the metabolites derived from steroid hormones, and their presence in urine, and made substantial contributions to their identification. He was also interested in the nature of the protein receptors and their role in the mechanism of action of the steroid hormones. The most fruitful development concerned methods for the determination of oestrogen receptors in breast-cancer tissue and Kellie was among the pioneers on both sides of the Atlantic in the clinical use of these determinations.

Kellie's work was of great interest to the World Health Organisation, who were setting up their Human Reproduction Task Force to study the fertile period of the human menstrual cycle as a means of improving the rhythm method of birth control. Kellie was a consultant for this project from 1974 to 1982, his laboratory being largely responsible for providing reagents and quality control. He was honoured by the award of a Personal Chair at London University.

Alex Kellie took his BSc in chemistry at Durham University and then did research for his Ph D at the Lister Institute (1934-39) before moving to teaching at St Bees School in Cumbria during the war. He was a loyal lieutenant to Sir Charles Dodds, providing him, often at short notice, with the scientific background for many of his principal lectures. His work as an editor of the Journal of Steroid Biochemistry no doubt helped in this. His experience as a schoolteacher made a lasting impression and contributed to his reputation as one who expected high standards from his research students but was also very fair in his appraisal of them. Those of us who worked at the Courtauld Institute with Kellie mourn the passing of a loyal and much respected colleague.