WORLD-OBITS-L ArchivesArchiver > WORLD-OBITS > 2005-12 > 1135175864
From: "Peter_McCrae" <>
Subject: MUIR: Isabella Helen Mary Muir--d.28/11/2005>uk---obits,the telegraph.co.uk
Date: Wed, 21 Dec 2005 14:37:44 -0000
Professor Helen Muir
The Daily Telegraph and the telegraph.co.uk
Professor Helen Muir, the former director of the Kennedy Institute of
Rheumatology who has died aged 85, was a pioneering woman scientist with an
international reputation in the biochemistry of connective tissues.
She established that osteoarthritis is not simply an inevitable part of the
wearing away of the cartilage in the joints with age, but a condition caused
by an active disease process that has both genetic and environmental causes.
A fiery, striking-looking redhead of forthright opinions and a great zest
for life, Helen Muir loved fast cars and fast horses, and rode to hounds
with the Bedale, near her family home in North Yorkshire.
She forged her career in the male-dominated world of medicine and
biochemistry with the same sort of no-nonsense determination as she cleared
her fences on the hunting field. She became the first woman to serve on the
Medical Research Council and the first woman biochemist to serve as a
trustee of the Wellcome Trust, ensuring that both these bodies made informed
decisions about the biochemical aspects of their work.
Her enthusiasm for hunting indirectly provided material for her research.
She would frequently return to London with packages containing the legs of
old hounds, which she would analyse in her laboratory. The accurate diaries
kept by the huntsmen, detailing the work the hounds had done, would enable
her to assess how their bones had been affected by the wear and tear
inflicted during their working lives.
Isabella Helen Mary Muir was born on August 20 1920 in India, where her
father was a senior administrator in the Indian Civil Service. After Helen's
birth her mother was visited in hospital by the Maharajah of Jaipur, who
said that she should not be disappointed at having had a girl instead of a
boy - he himself, he told her, had sired no fewer than 22 daughters. Helen
was educated by her mother -an intrepid side-saddle rider with the Bedale
hunt who inspired in her daughter a love of hunting - before being sent to
Downe House, from where she won a place to read Chemistry at Somerville
College, Oxford; she remained at Oxford to take a doctorate.
After a year as a research fellow at Dunn's School of Pathology in Oxford,
in 1948 she became a member of the medical staff at the National Institute
for Medical Research at Mill Hill, carrying out research into porphyrin
synthesis with Professor Albert Neuberger. Under the influence of the
Institute's director Sir Charles Harrington, her interests became more
biomedical, and in 1954 she went as Pearl Assurance Arthritis Fellow to St
Mary's Hospital in London. It was at this time, with the encouragement of
Professor Neuberger and Sir Stanley Peart, that she carried out research
into arthritis, in particular the extracellular matrix of cartilage.
In 1966 she moved to the newly-formed Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology at
Hammersmith, west London, to set up a research group in biochemistry. There
she established the molecular principles which form the foundation of
cartilage function and set in motion the molecular and cellular study of
osteoarthritis. She served as director of the Institute from 1977 to 1990.
At the same time she held several visiting professorships and was an
honorary professor at the Charing Cross and Westminster Medical School from
Helen Muir's career as a scientist did not interfere with her love of the
Yorkshire countryside. She inherited a small estate near Bedale from her
parents, who in the 1950s built Langlands House, where she spent as much
time as her work allowed. She was among the first in the area to experiment
with solar panels and heat exchangers. She extended the gardens at
Langlands, installing fine azaleas and exotic plants; and although the
estate's two farms were tenanted, she took a keen interest in them as well
as in its woodlands, from which each year she supplied the birch for the
Bedale's point-to-point fences at Hornby Park.
Her greatest love, however, was her horses. She hunted not only with the
Bedale but also further afield, with the Quorn in Leicestershire and the
Percy in Northumberland, among others.
On one occasion, shortly before the Prince of Wales announced his engagement
to Lady Diana Spencer, she was leaving Alnwick Castle in a car after a day
with the Percy when she found herself besieged by a posse of paparazzi. The
photographers had been wrongly informed that Lady Diana was on the premises,
and had mistaken Helen Muir - to her great amusement - for the Royal
Helen Muir served on various medical research bodies and won numerous
prizes, including the Feldberg Foundation Award in 1977; the Neil Hamilton
Fairley Medal of the Royal Society of Physicians in 1981; the Ciba Medal of
the Biochemical Society in 1981; and the Steindtler Award of the American
Orthopedic Society in 1993. She also featured in Our Brilliant Careers, a
television programme about pioneering women scientists.
She was appointed CBE in 1981 and elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in
Helen Muir enjoyed a good party and, although she never married, she had
plenty of male admirers. At the Kennedy Institute, she spawned an
international collegiate network of scientific progeny known affectionately
as "Helen's bag carriers".
She kept her favourite hunter in a paddock behind her house. He predeceased
his owner, aged 36, earlier this year. Helen Muir died on November 28.
© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2005.
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