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Gustav VR Born
research professor at the William Harvey Research Institute, and emeritus professor of pharmacology at King's College London


A tradition in my family was my main inspiration to take up science.

My great-grandfather, Marcus Born (1819-1874), was an innovative public health physician in the Silesian city of Görlitz, responsible for major improvements in the control of epidemics. His son, Gustav Born (1850-1900), was an extraordinarily original embryologist working in Breslau. He discovered new characters in hybridised amphibians, environmental influences on the sex ratio, developmental abnormalities in mammalian hearts, and – most importantly – the endocrine function of the corpus luteum, which through progesterone was one of the starting points of the contraceptive pill.

Gustav Born’s physicist son, Max Born (1882-1970), established the principles of solid state physics, and in the 1920s created in Göttingen an outstanding school of theoretical physics. His assistants and students included Max Delbrück, Maria Göppert-Mayer, Werner Heisenberg, Pascual Jordan, Robert Oppenheimer, Wolfgang Pauli, Otto Stern, Edward Teller, Victor Weisskopf and Norbert Wiener. After emigrating to Britain in 1933, Max Born continued with scientific work in Cambridge and Edinburgh. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1954, for his contributions to quantum mechanics. In retirement, he devoted himself to promoting awareness of the social and political consequences of science.

As Max Born’s son, born in 1921, I realised early that I was no good at mathematics and physics. But like my grandfather, Gustav, I was greatly interested in biology. After studying medicine in Edinburgh, and war service in the British Army, my working life has been in academic research. I have worked mainly on haemostasis, thrombosis and atherosclerosis, but I have also been able to follow up other ideas – for example, a physiological role for endothelial surface charge in the microcirculation, and purine uptake inhibitors in platelets indicating potential sleeping sickness therapy by inhibition of purine transporters in trypanosomes.

[Additional description]