Dr. Alfred William Frankland
(Still active at the age of 101, Dr. Frankland gave an interview earlier this year that was published in BioMed Central. We are pleased to share some highlights.)
You joined St Mary’s Hospital in 1934 and qualified in 1938. By 1946, you found yourself becoming interested in allergy – how did that come about?
I became interested in allergy completely by chance. After six and a half years in the war (three and a half years as a prisoner of war), I went back to my own teaching hospital – St. Mary’s (in 1946). We were given what was called “ex-service registrar” jobs. I’d chosen to do dermatology – special clinic. I hadn’t been doing this for more than a month when a notice went up saying they wanted a doctor in the allergy department for two mornings a week and one afternoon. I was free on those, so here was a chance of getting a little more expertise in a subject which at that time I knew nothing about. So I started in the allergy department and after six weeks liked it so much I went to Dr Freeman, my chief, and said, ”Could I be full time?” Since that time, I’ve been a full time allergist.
So while you were at St Mary’s, you worked with Dr John Freeman who was working on allergy, and also with Sir Alexander Fleming who was working on penicillin. It’s been said that as you were on good terms with both of them, you acted as a bridge between their research. Can you describe that time for us?
Well, Dr. Freeman – we always called him ‘JF’ and Fleming, we called him ‘Flem’ – didn’t get on at all well together. My chief was Freeman but after a short time I was looking after what was called the “experimental ward”. Therefore, I had to see Professor Fleming every morning at 10 o’clock to talk about the patients. But we never talked about them as he wasn’t interested in clinical medicine. He was a fascinating man in so many ways, and extremely clever. I really enjoyed these 10 o’clock meetings. It happened that he didn’t get on at all well with my real chief, Freeman. But that didn’t matter – I just continued, as it were, having two chiefs.
After three or four years I never saw anything of Freeman, but I inherited all his expertise. Including, of course, the largest pollen farm in the world. We produced pollen not only for experimental purposes, but we also sold pollen to America and Spain and so on. The pollen came, for the most part, from Timothy grass. I loved going down to the farm to see how to collect pollen, and when I first went there the farm was run by Dorothy Noon, who was the sister of Leonard Noon (who gave the first successful treatment of seasonal hay fever at St Mary’s Hospital in 1911). So, an allergy clinic has been running at St. Mary’s from about 1906 till the present day – and that’s a very long time!
So since the regular use of penicillin as an antibiotic, you started to see some patients developing allergic reactions. At the time, the concept of allergy was still very new, and particularly the concept of having an allergic reaction to drugs was very new. How did you deal with this at the time?
In those days, we had to recognize that this new wonder drug, Penicillin, was changing the whole of medicine by curing diseases that had been killing people. But, like all drugs to this present day, it could cause side effects. The side effects, as far as the allergy was concerned, were allergic reactions. In those days, and almost still today – it was very difficult to work out exactly what bit of the penicillin molecule people are allergic to. We just said this was an allergic reaction to penicillin and you mustn’t have any more penicillin because, instead of being beneficial, it could be fatal.
[Fleming] always insisted that reactions to penicillin (in those days a lot of it was given by injections) was due to impurities in the preparation. [In an update edition of Fleming’s book about infectious diseases] I had written: “With the increasing use of penicillin, it is to be expected that allergic reactions will become more common.” He crossed this last sentence out and wrote in his beautiful handwriting “With increasing use of penicillin, reactions due to impurities will become less common.” And that’s what’s in the book. To some extent, he was right – but I was also right!
What would be your advice to physicians – particularly allergists – of today?
Advice to allergists? Well, in this country we are very good at doing research in allergic problems and it’s a very complicated business looking at what the cells are doing. The whole of immunochemistry in all branches of medicine is advancing so much. I always say what’s needed is research, research, research, and a lot of very clever doctors doing the research. The problem is, there are a few professorial places in the UK that run an allergy clinic and do allergy research. Compared with America, or even most countries in Europe, we are not spending enough on research and we haven’t anything like enough clinics going and enough doctors – general practitioners as well as others – who know almost all the elements of this very complicated business of allergy.
For the full interview, go here.
Photograph by http://www.st-beghian-society.co.uk/