1950s radiobiology

Radio-sensitivity of somatic cells

The Douglas Lea Memorial Lecture for 1953 was delivered by A Glücksmann from the Strangeways Research Laboratories in Cambridge (Glücksmann BJR 1954; 27(324): 660-669) on the subject of the biological levels of the radio-sensitivity of somatic cells. He considered the whole field of radio-sensitivity and discussed localised and generalised effects. The knowledge of radiobiology increased considerably in the 1950s. This was partly related to the use of radioactive tracers and these were reviewed by GC Hevesy in his 1956 Silvanus Thompson Memorial Lecture (Hevesy BJR 1956; 29(345): 465-477). The Mackenzie Davidson Memorial Lecture for 1957 was delivered by FG Spear from Strangeways Research Laboratories in Cambridge (Spear BJR 1958; 31(363): 114-124) reviewing the biological effects of radiation.

 Radioactive Tracers

Image source: Hevesy BJR 1956; 29(345): 465-477


Louis Harold Gray and John Read

LH Gray and John Read from Mount Vernon Hospital continued to work on the effects of ionizing radiation on the broad bean root (vinca faba) (Gray and Read BJR 1950; 23(269): 300-303) publishing an account of the effects of alpha radiation in May 1950 with further publications on this topic appearing. The first appeared in January 1942 (Gray and Read BJR 1942; 15(169): 11-16) and further studies followed and were published in the BJR in the following years.

Broad bean normal growthBroad bean growth after irradiation

Image source:  Gray and Read BJR 1942; 15(169): 11-16


Radiobiological research

In February (Read BJR 1952; 25(290): 89-99), June (Read BJR 1952; 25(294): 336-338) and December 1952 (Read BJR 1952; 25(300): 651-661) John Read published further work on the broad bean root looking at the dependence of X-ray sensitivity to dissolved oxygen. It was known that the sensitivity of tumours and normal tissues to radiation was affected by the oxygen supply and in these papers Read investigated this further. 

In December 1953 a paper by L H Gray, A D Conger, M Ebert, S Hornsey and O C A Scott was published called “The Concentration of Oxygen Dissolved in Tissues at the Time of Irradiation as a Factor in Radiotherapy” (Gray, Conger, Ebert, Hornsey and Scott BJR 1953; 26(312): 638-648).  In this important paper it concluded that the sensitivity of tumour cells to X-rays was three times as great in well oxygenated conditions compared to the anoxic state. This conclusion was to stimulate considerable interest and research. In August 1957 there appeared two papers on oxygenation in radiotherapy. LH Gray, now at Mount Vernon Hospital, gave the radiobiological considerations (Gray BJR 1957; 30(356): 403-406) and then J Churchill-Davidson, C Sanger and RH Tomlinson gave the clinical applications (Churchill-Davidson, Sanger and Tomlinson BJR 1957; 30(356): 406-422). This latter paper described the technique and illustrated the pressure chamber.


Image source: Churchill-Davidson, Sanger and Tomlinson BJR 1957; 30(356): 406-422


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