Biography of Brian McArdle
Brian McArdle was born in London in 1911, the second son of Andrew McArdle, then parliamentary correspondent for The Scotsman. He was educated at Wimbledon College and Guy's Hospital, where he qualified in medicine in 1933. At Guy's Hospital his hair colour resulted in his being nicknamed "Black McArdle", to distinguish him from his brother Sean, "Red McArdle, who also studied medicine. The brothers were to spend much of their working lives at Guy's Hospital.
He undertook specialist training at Guy's Hospital, Great Ormond Street and the Brompton, before commencing a programme of research at Department of Medicine, Cambridge University in 1936. Here he met a recent graduate of Newnham College, Elizabeth (Betty) Woodman, and they were married as the Second World War began. During this period he investigated familial periodic paralysis and liver disease while obtaining a higher degree in medicine and proceeding to a doctorate.
In 1939 he moved to Medical Research Council Unit at the National Hospital for Nervous Disease, Queen's Square, where he worked for the Medical Research Council. He intended to work on muscular diseases. However, due to the outbreak of World War II he turned to investigations of diseases of movement and their treatment, and studied work capacity under very hot conditions as a part of a project concerning applied physiology for the armed forces. Other investigations concerned 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.
In 1946 McArdle moved back to Guy's Hospital, where his investigations centred on biochemical abnormalities in various forms of muscle disease. Soon the discovery of "his" disease 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 took up painting and gardening. In later years he was significantly slowed by Parkinson's disease, itself a neuromuscular condition. He was survived by his wife, Betty, and four children.
We thank Dr. Günter Krämer, Zürich, Switzerland, for information submitted.
- Peter Beighton & Gretha Beighton:
The Man Behind the Syndrome. Springer Verlag, Berlin-Heidelberg, 1986.
New edition as: The Person Behind the Syndrome. Springer-Verlag London, 1997.
- Obituary in: GKT gazette – Guy's, King's & St.Thomas's Hospitals Medical & Dental Schools Gazette on the www, September 2002.
- Caroline Richmond:
Brian McArdle. One of the last to give his name to an eponymous disease.
Obituary in the British Medical Journal, August 31, 2002, 325: 497.