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 20-21 October 2018


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 28-30 September 2018



Dr Brian McArdle 1911 - 2002


Reproduced from The Times of August 8th, 2002

Physician who helped troops to overcome sea-sickness on D-Day and discovered a disease that was named in his honour. Dr Brian McArdle, physician, was born on April 9, 1911. He died on August 1, 2002, aged 91.
"FEW physicians have better deserved to be remembered in eponym than Brian McArdle of Guy's Hospital", writes Dr Robert Layzer in an article about McArdle's Disease in the New England Journal of Medicine. "In 1951 he described a young man with a lifelong history of exertional muscle pain and stiffness - symptoms that previous physicians had dismissed as hysterical." On examination he noted that, unlike ordinary cramps, those experienced by the patient were electrically silent. McArdle recalled that in muscle poisoned by iodoactate, similar contractions occurred. This substance blocks the breakdown of muscle glycogen (the way muscles store energy) into glucose and prevents the formation of lactic acid. Applying this observation to his patient, McArdle found that no lactic acid was produced during hard or anaerobic exercise, a result indicating a defect in muscle glycogen breakdown.
Fifty years after Clinical Science published McArdle's paper "Myopathy due to a defect in muscle glycogen breakdown", physicians are still finding the disease difficult both to diagnose and to treat. One expert has recently written that the symptoms of the disease are "often mistaken for poor physical conditioning, poor motivation, or both", and such muscle exhaustion poses real danger in the case of swimmers or rock climbers.
Brian McArdle was born in Balham, the second son of Andrew McArdle, then parliamentary correspondent for The Scotsman. He attended Wimbledon College and then Guy's Hospital, where his hair colour resulted in his being nicknamed Black McArdle, to distinguish him from his brother Sean, Red McArdle. The brothers were to spend much of their working lives at Guy's Hospital.
A research post at Cambridge University introduced him to a recent graduate of Newnham College, Elizabeth (Betty) Woodman, and they were married as the Second World War began. McArdle spent the war years studying the effect of heat and cold on troops, the prevention of trench foot and, most importantly, how to prevent sea-sickness in preparation for the D-Day landings. Troops had to be effective the moment they landed.
In an attempt to replicate the rolling action of the sea and to induce motion sickness, McArdle and a colleague set up an adult form of baby bouncer in their lab. They took turns on this contraption with a balloon inflated in the bouncer's stomach to measure pressure. However, they were unable to make themselves sea sick and so called on the Army to provide "volunteers". A small troop of men were gathered on the Welsh coast and were to be put out to sea in shallow-bottomed boats. Unfortunately the seas then experienced a lengthy calm. Finally the waves rose and the volunteers became sea-sick. Of the numerous potentially useful drugs hyoscine (scopolamine) was found to be effective. This drug was administered to the British D-Day troops, and in spite of a rough passage the majority did not experience debilitating sea-sickness.
After the war McArdle continued his research, still based at Guy's Hospital. It was here that he discovered what is now known as McArdle's disease. Soon after this discovery he was invited to give a series of lectures in America and in Canada. This occurred in the middle of a very hot and humid summer, and he did not enjoy the experience at all. Thereafter he was a very reluctant traveller, rarely venturing further than Newcastle.
His research continued into muscular and neuromuscular conditions financed by the Medical Research Council. In 1973 he retired to Leatherhead and rediscovered painting.
In later years he was significantly slowed by Parkinson's disease, itself a neuromuscular condition. He is survived by his wife, Betty, and four children.