Sir Arnold Burgen FRS, the Founding President of AE, has passed away

Sir Arnold Burgen FRS, the Founding President of AE, has passed away


Sir Arnold, the Founding President of Academia Europaea (AE), passed away last Thursday (26th May), after a short illness. He had celebrated his 100th birthday on 20th March 2022.

In 1988, Sir Arnold founded AE. At the Foundation Meeting in Cambridge, he was elected President and served in this capacity for 6 years. Twenty years later, at the Academy’s Annual Conference at the University of Liverpool, Sir Arnold was created Praesidis Perpetui Honoris Causa (Honorary Life President). He was also the founder and first Editor of the Academy’s European Review and published several articles in the journal, including an important account of the origin and early days of Academia Europaea (2009) and a typically insightful review of an Academia Europaea conference on Calcium Signalling (2002) held at the Tschira Foundation in Heidelberg.

Sir Arnold graduated in Medicine from the University of London in 1945 and worked in London for a couple of years before being appointed Professor of Physiology at McGill University in Montreal in 1949. He held this Chair until 1962, when he was elected Sheild Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Cambridge. In 1971, he became Director of the Medical Research Council’s National Institute for Medical Research at Mill Hill, a post he held until 1982. Thereafter, he was Master of Darwin College in Cambridge from 1982 to 1989.

Sir Arnold was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1964, Member of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina in 1984 and Foreign Associate of the US National Academy of Sciences in 1987. He was Vice-President and Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society 1980 – 1986.

Ole Petersen CBE FRS, Vice-President of AE and Director of the Cardiff AE Hub said:

“I first met Sir Arnold in Philadelphia in 1968, at an international symposium on Exocrine Glands, which he chaired at the University of Pennsylvania. I had been inspired to work in the field of exocrine gland physiology by Arnold’s pioneering work on salivary glands and, in particular, by his magnificent monograph written for the Physiological Society (1961). A substantial part of his research dealt with the mechanism of action of acetylcholine in many different cell types. During his years in Montreal, he produced outstanding work, mostly published in the Journal of Physiology, on the action of acetylcholine on the heart and the salivary glands. His 1953 paper on the negative inotropic effect of acetylcholine on the heart, a crucially important physiological process, is a model of clarity and contains data that are still highly relevant for contemporary physiology. Much of Sir Arnold’s work was concerned with the process of salivary secretion stimulated by acetylcholine. One of his finest contributions is the single-author 1956 article in the Journal of Physiology on “The secretion of potassium in saliva”. This is a complete and quantitative analysis of the movement of potassium ions between blood, salivary gland cells and saliva, which has stood the test of time. Specifically, it has been confirmed and expanded by the direct recording of single-channel currents through potassium-selective channels that became feasible in 1983 and is now seen as forming the basis for our understanding of the initiation of salivary secretion by the action of acetylcholine. Sir Arnold regarded the salivary glands as particularly useful models of physiological machinery and therefore devoted much of his enormous energy to understanding how they worked.

AE owes its existence to Sir Arnold and we must all be eternally grateful for his wonderful initiative. Our thoughts, at this difficult time, are with his widow, Olga Kennard FRS MAE.”

1st June 2022. For further information please contact AECardiffHub@cardiff.ac.uk

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