Virologist and cancer researcher;
Born: July 4, 1918; Died: August 13, 2013.
Sir Michael Stoker, who has died at the age of 95, was one of the most influential scientists of the latter half of the 20th century and a pioneer of cancer research. As virology professor at Glasgow University throughout the 1960s, he dedicated himself to studying which viruses cause cancer, a relatively new field of specific research at the time.
When he was appointed by the university on October 1, 1958, Michael Stoker was the first ever professor of virology in the UK and his research helped bring Glasgow on to the radar of biomedical researchers around the world. He also carried out research into the herpes simplex virus, which causes what look like cold sores on the body and was prevalent around the UK at the time. He made major breakthroughs into how, why and when the virus shows itself in sores. His research helped lead to medicaments to ease the effects of herpes.
While at Glasgow University, Sir Michael and his colleague Ian Macpherson also studied the polyoma virus, which causes cancerous tumours in rodents. Their isolation of a line of rodent kidney cells helped biologists to understand the behaviour of cancer cells and, indeed, might well one day be seen as a major factor in combatting cancer in humans. Their research has already helped develop a vaccine for foot-and-mouth disease in cattle.
The two men's research attracted both experts and students to Glasgow University's new Virology Institute, which made major advances through the 1960s. Among those advances was how cell growth is controlled. Together, Sir Michael and Macpherson developed so-called immortal culture of cells - obtained from normal tissue but transformable into tumour-like cells through cancer-causing viruses. Sir Michael was the first to note that such cells could control each other's growth. Although no answer has been found to cancer, Sir Michael's research points to how cancer cells behave in tissues, and therefore, could be crucial in winning the battle against cancer.
On the lighter side, Sir Michael, while in Glasgow, chilled out on his self-built Mirror Dinghy, which he sailed down the Clyde. The boats were named after the newspaper, which had launched a campaign to say you didn't have to be a millionaire to sail a yacht.
After leaving Glasgow University, Sir Michael was head-hunted by the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF), since merged into what is now known as Cancer Research UK, and became the director of its research laboratories at Lincoln's Inn Fields in London. He has since been generally credited with making ICRF, and thereby Cancer Research UK, a world leader in the battle to rid the world of a disease he was confident could be conquered.
Before taking the job in London, he insisted on taking a colleague with him. That colleague was Italian-born but very Glaswegian biologist and geneticist Guido "Ponte" Pontecorvo, who had a pre-war PhD from Edinburgh University but had been locked up during the war because, thanks to Mussolini's alliance with Hitler, he was considered potentially an enemy. In fact, like Sir Michael, Ponte's frontline enemy was cancer and together they fought it in the labs of the ICRF, a few blocks north of Fleet Street which gave them little lineage or recognition.
Michael George Parke Stoker, son of a GP from Cork in Ireland who had fought in the First World War, was born in Taunton, Somerset, on July 4, 1918. He studied medicine at Cambridge University (Sidney Sussex College) and became a trainee doctor at St Thomas' Hospital, London, across the Thames from the Houses of Parliament.
When war broke out in 1939, he enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps and was stationed in Poona (now Pune), where he developed a love affair with India. After the war, he became a lecturer in pathology and later director of medical studies at Clare College, Cambridge.
Retiring to Cambridge, Sir Michael became president of Clare Hall, a graduate offshoot of Clare College, and painted in his spare time. In 1968, he was elected Fellow of the London-based Royal Society, which includes distinguished members of the scientific, engineering and medical professions. He became vice-president and foreign secretary of the society, was appointed CBE in 1974 and knighted in 1980.
Sir Michael's wife of 62 years, Veronica (nee English), died in 2004. He is survived by their sons Christopher, Paul and Robin, and daughters Jenny and Sally.
We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis. If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules, which are available here.
Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.