The Barcroft Lecture
Henry Barcroft, RFS (1904-1988)
Professor Henry Barcroft was a distinguished physiologist born in Cambridge in 1904. His father, Sir Joseph Barcroft, was a Cambridge physiologist from an Irish Quaker background and his maternal grandfather, Sir Robert Ball, had been Astronomer Royal of Ireland and Professor of Astronomy at Cambridge.
Henry entered King's College, Cambridge, in 1923 with an exhibition, and was awarded a double first in the Tripos examinations as well as research studentships that funded his studies of circulatory problems in animals for the following two years.
After three years at St Mary's Hospital, London, where he completed his medical qualification, he then decided to pursue a career in physiology rather than medicine, and during a three year appointment at University College London he became interested in extending the application of scientific investigations to human clinical problems.
It was in 1935, at the age of 30, that Barcroft was appointed to the Dunville Chair of Physiology at Queen's University Belfast where he turned his full attention to human physiology and studied the regulation of blood flow in the limbs, using himself, healthy volunteers and willing patients as subjects. He measured flow by the non-invasive method of what is known as "venous occlusion plethysmography".
In 1948 Barcroft was appointed to a chair at the Sherington School of Physiology at St Thomas's Hospital Medical School in London. Together with H.J.C. Swan, Barcroft wrote the first monograph of the Physiological Society: Sympathetic Control of Human Blood Vessels. Published in 1953, it is the shortest in the society's series of over 30 monographs. It is couched in simple and direct language and illustrated by the elegantly clear diagrams that characterise all Barcroft's papers.
In the same year, Barcroft was elected to a Fellowship of the Royal Society and in 1957 he was appointed Chairman of the Editorial Board of the Monographs of the Physiological Society. Honorary degrees at home and abroad followed and he was later appointed as a Wellcome Trustee. Many who worked with him or came under his influence continued in active research and occupied chairs at the Mayo Clinic and elsewhere in North America, Australia, and the United Kingdom.
Professor Barcroft continued to attend regular meetings of the Physiological Society until shortly before his death.
Following his death the Wellcome Trust established the Barcroft Lecture to honour his contribution to medical reserch and the Lecture is awarded by the School of Medicine, Denstistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen's University Belfast for major contributions to research in the fields of physiology or medicine. Previous recipients include Professor Salvador Moncada, from University College London, Professor Valentin Fuster from Mt Sinai School of Medicine, New York, and Professor David Clapham from Harvard Medical School. Each Barcroft lecturer receives an engraved silver medal to commemorate the event.
Henry Barcroft, physiologist: born Cambridge 18 October 1904; Lecturer in Physiology, University College London 1932-35; Dunville Professor of Physiology, Queen's University, Belfast 1935-48; Professor of Physiology, St Thomas's Hospital Medical School 1948-71 (Emeritus); FRS 1953; married 1933 Dr Bridget Ramsey (died 1990; three sons, one daughter); died London 11 January 1998.
Honouring Excellence in Medical Research
Image right: a young Henry Barcroft (top left) with Mary Agnetta née Ball, Lady Barcroft, Bridget Mary Barcroft née Ramsey, and Sir Joseph Barcroft. Image courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, London
Recipients of the Barcroft Medal
Professor Sir Stephen O'Rahilly, University of Cambridge
Professor Sarah Gilbert, University of Oxford
Professor Pascale Cossart, Institut Pasteur, Paris (lecture rescheduled for 23 March 2022 due to the COVID 19 pandemic)
Professor Diane Mathis, Harvard Medical School
Professor Luke O'Neill, Trinity College Dublin
Professor Sir Ian Wilmut, Roslin Institute, Edinburgh University
Dr Anthony Cerami, Kenneth S. Warren Institute
Professor Eric Olson, UT Southwestern Medical School