Centenarian scientist William Frankland is Britain’s oldest practising scientist and is widely referred to as the grandfather of allergy. With over 60 years of scientific research under his belt, Frankland recalls some of the highlights in a Q&A with BMC Medicine Editor Sabina Alam, from working with Alexander Fleming to conducting the first double-blind randomized controlled trial in the field of allergen immunotherapy.
Throughout his life Frankland has been subject to many life-threatening situations, including his time as a prisoner of war during world war two. Some of his close calls however were of the scientific kind; in this podcast he tells us about an encounter with a South American insect (Rhodnuis prolixus) when he tested his own allergic response.
“People ask me how I have reached 101. And I say the answer to that is: I have been so near death so many times, but I have always just missed, that’s why I’m still alive”
Born in 1912, William Frankland was inspired to become a doctor following a childhood bout of bovine tuberculosis. He qualified in 1938 from St. Mary’s Hospital, UK, and soon developed an interest in allergy, becoming a full time allergist. When world war two broke out, Frankland joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and would later find himself a prisoner of war in Singapore, noting how the Japanese prison guards were desensitized to native insect bites. On his return to the UK, Frankland continued to work at St Mary’s Hospital and would go on to contribute to numerous advances in the field of allergy. One of his most notable contributions is his work on tracking seasonal variations of pollen counts that resulted in pollen counts becoming a part of mainstream media broadcasting in the 1960’s – with significant impact on public health.
Frankland continues to conduct research into allergy, recently publishing an opinion piece on false beliefs around allergic rhinitis in BMC Medicine. Regarded as a leading allergist to this day, he has been called upon as an expert witness in criminal proceedings. Frankland is currently also Honorary President of the Anaphylaxis Campaign, a UK charity devoted to severe allergy issues.
Question and answer
BMC Medicine 2014, 12:11
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BMC Medicine 2013, 11:255
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