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Biographical entry Slome, David (1906 - 1995)

FRCS by election 1962 BA Cape Town 1925; MB ChB 1931; MA 1928; PhD 1930; Hon FFA 1969.

24 November 1906
Maitland, South Africa
4 June 1995


David Slome was born in the village of Maitland, near Cape Town, on 24 November 1906, the second eldest of the nine children of East European immigrants. His father had interests in the hotel trade and the canning industry, and this entailed frequent moves, so that David changed school several times, but always excelled. He matriculated at 15 and won an entrance scholarship to the University of Cape Town. He started reading law, following in the footsteps of his elder brother, but soon changed to study medicine. He went on to win both the first and second year medical scholarships, and the graduated BA with medals in anatomy, physiology, zoology and pharmacology. This was the beginning of an outstanding academic career. During the next two years as senior demonstrator in the department of anatomy he began his long and productive research in anatomy and anthropology, graduating MA in anatomy with distinction and being awarded a further scholarship. In 1930 his experimental work with Lancelot Hogben on the chromatic function of the xenopus toad gained him a PhD with distinction.

After clinical studies at Groote Schuur Hospital he qualified MB ChB in 1931 with honours and distinctions, gaining medals in pathology, public health, surgery, medicine and obstetrics and gynaecology. He won the gold medal and scholarship for the most distinguished medical graduate of the year, and also the coveted 1851 Science Research Exhibition of South Africa, a prize which commemorated the Great Exhibition of 1851.

In 1931 Hogben moved to London and invited Slome to join him at the London School of Economics. He had brought some xenopus toads with him, whose descendants were used for the first pregnancy tests in the UK. In March 1933 Slome took the primary FRCS examination, won the Hallett Prize and was awarded the Leverhulme Research Scholarship. Between 1936 and 1939 he was a demonstrator in physiology at St Bartholomew's Hospital and held a research scholarship at the College which he spent working at the Buckston Browne Surgical Research Farm. In 1937 he gave an Arris and Gale lecture entitled The Nervous Factor in Traumatic Shock.

Much of his research at this time was with Laurence O'Shaugnessy, a cardiothoracic surgeon who did much pioneering work in open chest surgery, and David assisted him in operations at Lewisham Hospital. His publications during this period reflect his main interests at the time - aetiology of traumatic shock, revascularisation of the myocardium and the use of haemoglobin solution as a substitute for blood.

In 1939 he was commissioned captain in the RAMC, and spent the war years training ambulance crews in Leeds. Subsequently he returned to the Middlesex Hospital as lecturer, and later reader, in physiology, and at the request of Professor Samson Wright helped to coach the many Australian postgraduates there. This was the beginning of a phenomenal career in teaching. Until 1950 he had intended to return to Cape town, but was appointed to the new chair in applied physiology at the College in charge of research at the Buckston Browne Farm, which he held until his retirement in 1975.

With the formation of the Institute of Basic Medical Sciences at the College in 1954, David became head of the department of physiology, and in 1970 was appointed Gresham Professor of Physic at the City University. He never sat the final FRCS but was awarded a Fellowship by election in 1962 by Sir Arthur Porritt and in 1969 an honorary Fellowship of the Faculty of Anaesthetists.

Under Slome's direction, research at the Buckston Browne Farm was mainly involved with wound healing, the physiology of joints, dental research, the effects on renal function of the absorption of urine from the bowel mucosa, the viscosity of blood and the erythrocyte sedimentation rate. It was David's help and encouragement that enabled the young Roy Calne to show that transplant rejection could be controlled by a pharmacological agent. David, his wife Betty and their daughter Liz lived at the Farm from 1953 to 1968.

In 1970, together with Earl Owen (who later became President of the International College of Surgeons) David introduced the novel idea of a surgical workshop, the first one being on microsurgery. On retirement from the College in 1975 he was elected Emeritus Professor.

David's aim was always to inspire interest in physiology and to get students through their examinations. Around 1952 he realised that there were prospective surgeons in the UK who could not take time off for full-time courses at the College, so with Frank Stansfield he offered evening classes, initially at Frank's house. Their popularity led to the expansion of these courses after David's retirement to cope with 100 students at a time. His outstanding skills as a teacher will long be remembered with gratitude by the thousands whom he launched on their surgical careers.

He died on 4 June 1995, his wife having pre-deceased him in 1984. He left one married daughter, Liz Beckman, who graduated in electrical engineering and has devoted much of her professional work to the field of radiology.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Daily Telegraph 20 June 1995].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England