Medicine

Professor Dame Barbara Clayton (1922-2011)

19 January 2011


Dame Barbara Clayton

Professor Dame Barbara Clayton has made many outstanding contributions to medical science, but two stand out as having great impact on the lives of children.

In 1964, while at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH), her classical publication "Lead Poisoning in Children" firmly established the association between lead exposure and central nervous system effects. Even at low blood concentrations lead was shown to impair children's intellectual development, the main sources being household paint, nursery furniture and "anti-knock" additives in petrol. As one of the longest serving members of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (1981-96), Dame Barbara led its 9th study "Lead in the Environment", published in 1983. It is often stated the RCEP Reports have recognisable impact only many years after their release, but on this occasion within hours of releasing the Commission's Report showing that vehicle emissions were a major source of lead exposure, the government set in train law that prohibited lead additives in petrol.
 
A second major research activity was pioneering of the neonatal diagnosis and dietary treatment of phenylketonuria, an inherited enzyme deficiency affecting 1 in 15,000 children and leading to severe brain damage and convulsions.
 
Dame Barbara was born in 1922 and undertook her undergraduate medical education at the University of Edinburgh from which she qualified with distinction in 1946. With a passionate interest in research, she became a research assistant to the distinguished chemist, Professor Guy Marrian, at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary before moving to St Thomas' Hospital, London in 1949 where she completed her PhD. She was appointed Consultant Chemical Pathologist to Great Ormond Street Hospital in 1959 and Professor in 1968. In 1978 she moved to the new Medical School at the University of Southampton and was its first female professor. Her research increasingly took on a nutritional bias both in children and the elderly. From 1993-6, Barbara led the Nutrition Task Force for the Health of the Nation for the UK Government.

Her increasing interests in medical education in Southampton led to her appointment as Dean (1983-6) during which time she initiated the first UK Chair specifically dedicated to nutrition to which Professor Alan Jackson was appointed. She became President of the Royal College of Pathologists from 1984-7 following which she had the difficult task of heading the Lowermoor Incident Health Advisory Group Enquiry into the Water Pollution incident which occurred on 6 July 1988 in Camelford, Cornwall.

Amongst a catalogue of national and international awards, appointments  and honours she has been Presidents of the British Nutrition Foundation, the Association of Clinical Biochemists (1977-78), the Biomedical Sciences Section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1981-2), the Society for the Study of Inborn Errors of Metabolism (1981-2), the National Society for Clean Air and Environmental Pollution (1995-97), the British Dietetic Association (1989-2008), the British Nutrition Foundation (1999-2008) and Chair of the Medical/Scientific Panel of the Leukaemia Research Fund. In 1999 Dame Barbara  was awarded the British Medical Association's gold medal for distinguished merit, and became honorary fellow of the Institute of Biology and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

Dame Barbara has been at the forefront of pioneering the roles of women within medicine. Those who knew Barbara felt a strong sense of genuine affection coupled with deep respect, fairness and enormous concern for her colleagues. For her outstanding contributions on the importance of diet and nutrition and in Chemical Pathology, she was appointed CBE in 1983 and DBE in 1988.

In 1949 she married William Klyne, who himself was to become an eminent chemist, who died in 1977. Barbara is survived by her two children, Michael and Janey.

Professor Stephen Holgate CBE
Chair of Immunopharmacology
University of Southampton