WORLD-OBITS-L ArchivesArchiver > WORLD-OBITS > 2007-10 > 1192965735
From: "Peter McCrae" <>
Subject: [WORLD-OBITS] ROE: John Caldwell Roe oct,2007
Date: Sun, 21 Oct 2007 12:22:15 +0100
Last Updated: 2:42am BST 16/10/2007
Roe: his writings revealed his mischievous sense of humour
Francis Roe, who has died aged 82, was an experimental pathologist who made
important contributions to cancer research and toxicology.
His wide range of research interests included the general toxicology and
potential carcinogenicity of foods, food additives and contaminants, drugs,
tobacco, pollutants and industrial chemicals.
He also addressed the mechanisms of carcinogenesis, cancer epidemiology,
cancer prevention and the pathology of laboratory animals. All this resulted
in more than 800 publications, including eight books and many leading
articles in the British Medical Journal and The Lancet.
Francis John Caldwell Roe was born in London on August 16 1924 and was
educated at St Olave's Grammar School, Orpington, followed by Wadham
College, Oxford, and the London Hospital Medical College.
He took up a house appointment at the London Hospital in 1948, continuing
his pathology experience at the Royal Army Medical College from 1949 to 1951
before returning for 10 years to the London Hospital to be lecturer, then
senior lecturer, in the department of cancer research.
In 1961 he moved to the Chester Beatty Research Institute and was there
until 1971, obtaining a doctorate from London University in 1965; he was
elected a fellow of the Royal College of Pathology in 1967. He was also
associate pathologist and honorary consultant to the Royal Marsden hospital
in this period, but found time to gain considerable experience in general
practice as a part-time locum.
By this time he had already published widely and his advice was sought by
various industries. In 1971 he joined the Tobacco Research Council as its
research co-ordinator, but two years later decided to set up as an
independent consultant in toxicology, experimental pathology and cancer
research. This proved highly successful, and his advice continued to be
sought over a long period by a widening range of food, drug, chemical and
Roe's early work was concerned with understanding how cancer develops, and
in particular demonstrating the profound effect on tumour incidence rates of
the order in which chemicals were assimilated.
His experimental studies on the skin, many published with his colleague Myer
Salaman, underlined the complexities of the cancer process. In his writings
Roe stressed that cancer is a group of diseases, each cancer with multiple
When he started his work, cure was the main interest for most cancer
researchers; but he emphasised the importance of cancer prevention, and
investigated the possible carcinogenicity of a large number of agents.
These included tobacco smoke (he conducted much work on its chemical
constituents ), asbestos, talc in mineral oils, the drugs metronidazole and
cimetidine, chloroform and various dietary components (including salt,
sugars, lactose, saccharin, aspartame and vitamin A).
Some of his investigations concerned more unusual agents. Thus, in his
offices at Wimbledon he kept species of the euphorbia plant, for which he
had shown the latex to be a strong promoter of cancer.
In the mid-1970s Roe was involved in studies on cancer and ageing. It is
well known that the risk of most cancers is much higher in the old than the
young, and it was held by many that this was due to decrease in the body's
resistance to cancer with advancing age.
Based on studies in which the age at the start of exposure to chemical
carcinogens varied, Roe and his colleagues showed that, at least under some
conditions, the incidence of cancer depended wholly on the duration of
exposure and not at all on the age at the start of treatment. This was of
great importance to the understanding of mechanisms of cancer.
Roe's career started when the use of rodents to test new chemicals for
carcinogenicity was in its infancy. While methods of testing have barely
changed over several decades, he was well aware of its strengths and
limitations, and took a keen interest in contentious issues relating to it,
in particular the optimum diet to use for the laboratory animals.
He planned and executed the huge Biosure study, which showed that
restricting the dietary intake of untreated rats to 80 per cent of their
usual intake dramatically reduced the incidence of cancers of various types.
He pointed out that laboratory animals were typically overfed and obese, and
that variations in cancer incidence between untreated and chemically treated
rodents may arise not because the chemical had any true carcinogenic effect,
but because it happened to affect the appetite of the animal.
Later in his career Roe became interested in the accuracy of diagnosis of
Based on autopsy studies in Hungary, a country where post-mortems are
routinely conducted in patients dying in hospital, he found that a large
proportion of some cancers diagnosed at autopsy are not detected clinically,
and that a similarly large proportion of cancers diagnosed in life are not
confirmed at post-mortem.
Roe did not have statistical qualifications, but was conscious of many
important ways in which inadequate use of statistics could produce
misleading results, and was one of the first to be keenly aware that
analysis of tumour incidences without adjustment for survival differences
can lead to erroneous conclusions as to whether a chemical is deemed
carcinogenic or not.
He worked closely with statisticians such as Malcolm Pike, Richard Peto and,
during his period of independent consultancy, Peter Lee.
In the late 1970s Roe and Lee collaborated on ideas for the development of a
computer system for pathology data which would allow relevant information to
be collected and statistically analysed in an unbiased way. With the major
contribution of the statistician John Fry, this ROELEE system has continued
development to this day.
While he had extremely high standards, Roe's writing was never dry. He had a
mischievous sense of humour and his papers and reports could be amusing to
In 1990, after a spell in a well-known London hospital involving
considerable time on a lavatory seat which proved more uncomfortable than
any pain stemming from his scars and tubes, he published a letter in The
Lancet entitled "Flat seats for convex bottoms", advocating a superior
In recognition of 50 years of scientific endeavour, in 2002 a special issue
of Food and Chemical Toxicology was published in his honour. Roe was for
many years a trustee and committee member of the Marie Curie Cancer Research
Institute; he became a life vice-president of Marie Curie Cancer Care in
He served with distinction for many years on the DHSS committees on
carcinogenicity and toxicity and on the World Health Organisation's advisory
panel on food safety.
Roe was known for his kindness to his colleagues, and was always willing to
assist young pathologists and other scientists to develop their careers.
In his spare time he was a skilful portrait sculptor; his study of Professor
Cuthbert Dukes, the famous histopathologist, is on permanent display at the
Royal College of Pathologists.
Francis Roe married, in 1948, Brenda Beckett, who survives him with their
two sons and two daughters.
|[WORLD-OBITS] ROE: John Caldwell Roe oct,2007 by "Peter McCrae" <>|