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Archive of the month - Gaddum Papers

Pharmacology and war: the papers of Sir John Henry Gaddum

Photographic portrait of Gaddum by Walter StonemanThe end of last year saw the beginning of a project funded by the Wellcome Trust to catalogue collections of 20th century medical history. As part of this project, we have now catalogued the papers of pharmacologist Sir John Henry Gaddum.

Trained as a physiologist, Gaddum worked under Sir Henry Dale at the National Institute for Medical Research. Here, with Ulf von Euler, he discovered a new kind of vasodepressor substance in the brain and helped clarify the role of acetylcholine in neurotransmission. Becoming fascinated by the methods of drug action, Gaddum pioneered ever more sensitive methods of testing the pharmacological activity of substances.

Detail from Gaddum's experimental notebook on reactions to gases used in warfare (JHG/2/15)Gaddum's papers cover his entire career, containing working notes, lecture scripts, reviews and correspondence. These include letters from H W Florey, statistician R A Fisher and evolutionary biologist J B S Haldane. Showing the scope of his interest, a letter from W H Thorpe answers his questions on the migratory routes of storks, and another exchange with environmentalist A M Harthoorn concerns the supply of drugs to sedate endangered white rhinoceros for transport.

In the 1940s Gaddum worked at the Experimental Defence Station at Porton Down, where he took part in research on gas warfare. The collection includes his wartime laboratory notebooks and reports of strategy recommendations from the Porton research team. This, together with his international correspondence, provides valuable insight into the role of the medical scientist in wartime.


Fellow of the month

Detail of a photographic portrait of Widdowson, Godfrey Argent Studio

Find out about Elsie Widdowson (1906-2000), a pioneer in the field of dietetics and nutrition.






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