'Grandfather' of Clinical Allergy, Dr William Frankland, Dies at 108

Nicky Broyd

April 03, 2020

"He was a legend in his own lifetime" was among the tributes to allergist Dr William Frankland who has died at the age of 108.

Image credit: John Stillwell - WPA Pool/Getty Images

The British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology (BSACI) also described him as the 'grandfather' of clinical allergy in the UK and a pioneer of allergen-specific immunotherapy.

He was honorary president of The Anaphylaxis Campaign, who said his many achievements had "benefited so many people globally".

In an interview with Imperial College London (ICL) just last month, Dr Frankland, known to many as Bill, put his long life down to luck. He said: "I like to think the reason I’ve lived so long is that I’ve got 'guardian angels'! I’ve come close to death so many times – from the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, three and a half years spent as a Japanese prisoner of war, to experiencing anaphylaxis following a tropical insect bite – but somehow I’ve always managed to miss it and that’s why I’m still here."

Although allergies were his passion, he had been following news of the COVID-19 virus. He said: "It's worrying; I think there are a lot of challenges ahead. It’s great to see scientists, such as those at Imperial, working so quickly to help tackle the pandemic."

Life and Career

Dr Frankland was born the youngest of identical twins in Battle, Sussex on 19th March 1912. Unlike his brother, Dr Frankland had hay fever, but after 90 years said that he'd "grown out of it". He's reported to have decided on a career in medicine after he disliked the way a doctor treated him, his brother and sister when they were ill as children with bovine tuberculosis.

He read medicine at Queen’s College, Oxford and St Mary's Hospital Medical School, now part of Imperial College London. At the start of the Second World War he joined the army and spent 6 years in the Medical Corps. Three and a half of those were spent as a Japanese prisoner of war in Singapore.

After the war he returned to St Mary's with the idea of becoming a dermatology consultant. However, he said he soon realised it didn’t interest him so instead he began a 6-week trial working part-time in the allergy department and never looked back. In 1962 he became director of the department.

Before that he'd worked as a clinical assistant to Sir Alexander Fleming, with whom he was said to have enjoyed a good working relationship. However, they disagreed over the prospect of penicillin allergy. Dr Frankland was later proved correct in his belief that allergy to penicillin was likely to occur.
 

Hay Fever and Pollen Count

Dr Frankland undertook the first scientific trial of grass pollen injections for hay fever, to show how effective they were. He also demonstrated that immunisation with bacteria did not prevent asthma exacerbations.

It was Dr Frankland’s recommendation that St Mary’s employed a botanist (Miss Muriel Hay), allowing pollen counts to be recorded from a pollen trap on the nurses' home hospital roof. Since 1963 these have been sent to the media and the pollen count is now part of today's weather forecasts.

He was summoned to Iraq to treat Saddam Hussein for bad asthma thought to be caused by an allergy to fungal spores. He told the BMA: "In fact, he wasn’t allergic… and he didn’t have asthma, but what he did do was smoke more than 40 cigarettes a day and that was the cause of his chest trouble."
 

Tributes

In 2015 Dr Frankland was awarded an MBE for services to allergy research.

He was a founder and president of what’s now known as the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology and vice president of the International Association of Aerobiology. 

The BSACI said: "Rarely can a single figure have been so influential in an institution and the fostering of a clinical discipline to the extent that Bill Frankland has. He was a legend in his own lifetime and many allergists of several generations have benefitted greatly from his wisdom and experience. He will be sadly missed by the whole allergy community."
 

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