Born: May 10, 1929; Died: September 10, 2013.
Gerald Collee, who has died aged 84, was a distinguished microbiologist whose expertise was called upon when the Government battled with the enormity of the BSE threat to human health.
In the late 1980s the potential hazards to man of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), dubbed "mad cow disease", were only beginning to be assessed and he was drafted in to chair a working group to safeguard medicines from infected bovine material. The aim was to protect the public from the potentially devastating transmission of BSE to humans.
Prof Collee, who was made a CBE for services to medicine, subsequently gave evidence to the independent inquiry into the BSE epidemic after retiring from a career that began as a junior doctor.
Born in Bo'ness, he was the son of a dentist and was schooled at Bo'ness and Edinburgh academies before studying medicine at Edinburgh University. He graduated in 1951 and his first job, before National Service, was as a house doctor at Roodlands General Hospital in Haddington.
He then served as a captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps where he was regimental medical officer to the 5th Royal Northumberland Fusiliers and officer commanding the army medical reception station at Newcastle Upon Tyne.
The next year was spent working as an assistant GP at Shifnal in Shropshire before, encouraged by his mentors in Edinburgh, he returned north to pursue academic work. This period of the 1950s witnessed great development of antibiotics - penicillin had only become commercially available in the 1940s - and it proved an exciting era for the young microbiologist.
He lectured in bacteriology at Edinburgh University Medical School from 1955, furthering his own studies to graduate MD and win the gold medal in 1962. He was also awarded a graduate travelling scholarship and studied medical statistics and epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine before spening a year in Baroda, India, as the World Health Organisation's visiting professor of bacteriology.
Back in Edinburgh in 1964 he became a founding member of the Royal College of Pathologists and was appointed professor at Edinburgh in 1974. Five years later he was appointed to the Robert Irvine chair of bacteriology, later renamed medical microbiology, at the capital's medical school where, after retiring, he remained emeritus professor.
Among his areas of special interest were: anaerobic bacteria (those which do not need oxygen to live or grow) of clinical importance in relation to tetanus, gas gangrene and other conditions; bacterial toxins; immunisation against infectious diseases - he was a member of various advisory committees on infection control, vaccination and immunisation; and antibiotics and antibacterial agents.
He also worked in the field of food-borne diseases and bacterial food poisoning, and produced numerous papers and books on bacteriological and related subjects as well as editing Mackie and McCartney's textbook Practical Medical Microbiology.
During his academic career he taught all three of his children, all of whom qualified in medicine at Edinburgh.
For 20 years Prof Collee was also chief bacteriologist to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and consultant bacteriologist, Lothian Health Board, and, for several years until 1991, was consultant advisor in microbiology to the Scottish Home and Health Department.
But it was in the late 1980s, as the BSE epidemic took hold in the UK, that he was called in to assist the Government. Already a member of the committee on the Safety of Medicines (CSM) in London and chair of the biological sub-committee, he was asked to chair the CSM's BSE working group, a role he carried out from 1989-92.
He would later write three reviews of the BSE situation, one titled A Dreadful Challenge, for The Lancet and provide evidence to the BSE inquiry, a wide-ranging investigation into numerous issues surrounding the epidemic and its handling, including the development of the human equivalent Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
By that stage he was already retired but continued to maintain an interest in his field, remaining a member of the Medicines Commission, London and the Medical Research Council's vaccination and immunisation procedures and medicines committees until 1995.
Prof Collee, who was awarded a CBE in the 1991 New Years Honours list, had been a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh since 1979 and, in 1993, was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
An accomplished writer, in retirement he enjoyed writing poetry and had a number of anthologies of poems and verses published. He was also a keen painter and gardener, and played fiddle with a folk band at a hotel in Aberfeldy, where he had a cottage.
Prof Collee, who was divorced from his first wife Isobel and widowed by his second wife, Professor Anne Ferguson, is survived by his close companion Doreen Martin, his brother Ian, sister Moira and his three children, Carol, a GP, George, an anaesthetist, and John, who inherited his father's passion for words and left medicine to become a writer and screenwriter, with credits including the Oscar-winning animated film Happy Feet and Creation, the story of Darwin's life.
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