McLeod, James Graham

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BSc(Med) 1953 MB BS 1959 DSc 1997 FRACP FRCP DPhil (Oxon), Honorary Doctor of the University of Aix-Marseille, FAA FAATSE

James (Jim) McLeod was the Foundation Bushell Professor of Neurology at the University of Sydney in 1978. This was the first established Chair of Neurology in Australia. In his research and clinical practice, James McLeod has been a pioneer in epidemiological research and clinical understanding of multiple sclerosis in Australia, as well as in research on hereditary and acquired peripheral neuropathies and muscle diseases.

James McLeod was born in Sydney in 1932. He entered the Faculty of Medicine in 1949 and completed his BSc (Med) in 1953, having studied under Professor Bishop. During this time, James met Professor Frank Cotton and partook in his experiments to test medical students and others for their physical capacity for rowing. It was an experiment that turned into a lifelong interest. James trained as a rower with Frank Cotton and went on the win Blues at the University of Sydney for rowing and rifle shooting, as well as rowing for the New South Wales crew in the Kings Cup.

In 1953, Jim became a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, being awarded his DPhil in 1956 for his research into the neurophysiology of referred pain. Whilst at Oxford, Jim continued rowing and represented Oxford University in the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race. In 1954, he had the honour and pleasure of winning the 100th boat race, together with three other Australian scholars in the crew.

On return to Australia, he completed his medical studies in the Faculty graduating MB BS in 1959. He was a part-time lecturer in physiology at the University of Sydney, concurrently completing his residency at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, where he became Medical Registrar in 1961. He spent part of 1962 as a Medical Registrar at Christchurch Hospital in New Zealand in an exchange program for registrars. Back in Australia in 1963, he took up an appointment as Clinical Superintendent (Medical) at Royal Prince Alfred.

As a Nuffield Travelling Fellow in 1964, he visited London and worked as an Academic Registrar in the Institute of Neurology at the National Hospital, Queen Square. In 1965, a Lilly International Travelling Fellowship took him to Harvard University as a Fellow in Neurology. During this time, he undertook clinical training and neurological research into peripheral nerve function and disorders.

Jim became a Visiting Physician at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and the Repatriation General Hospital, Concord in the 1960s. In 1967 he was appointed Senior Lecturer in Medicine at the University of Sydney, later becoming Associate Professor in 1970 and Bosch Professor in 1978, a position he held until retirement. From 1972 to 1978 he was Professor of Medicine at Sydney Hospital with clinical and teaching responsibilities there.

Jim has been actively involved in the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Australia since 1976 and was a member of their research advisory board for many years, including in the positions of Chairman and Vice-Chairman. He is presently Research Advisor to MS Research Australia. He was also a member of the International Advisory Panel of the International Federation of Multiple Sclerosis Societies. With Tony Basten he carried out the first clinical trail of immunotherapy in multiple sclerosis in Australia, initially with transfer factor and then later with alpha- and beta- interferons. These trials were aimed at testing whether the use of these substances reduced the number of attacks and later progression of the illness. Since these early studies, James has continued to research the epidemiology of multiple sclerosis, along with his research fellows and collaborators mapping its prevalence and incidence alongside the clinical features and course of the illness. Jim work in this area is ongoing and quoted in much of the medical literature on the subject.

He was appointed an Honorary Consultant Neurophysiologist at the Royal Newcastle Hospital and Consultant Physician at Royal North Shore and Sydney Hospitals in 1977.

In 1978 he became Visiting Professor at the National Hospital in Queen Square, London. That year was busy for Jim, also appointed Head of the Department of Neurology at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital as well as Head of the Department of Medicine and Bushell Professor of Neurology at the University of Sydney. This was the first established Chair of Neurology at the University of Sydney and in Australia.

As Bushell Professor, Jim established a highly productive research group which became known internationally, and which worked mainly on peripheral nerve and muscle diseases and multiple sclerosis. With Richard Gye, John Hargrave and John Pollard he developed a technique of nerve grafting for treatment of leprosy and made visits to the East Arm Leprosy Hospital in Darwin to treat Aboriginal patients. Later, with Richard Gye and Stan Lamond, he introduced a consultant neurosurgery/neurology service to Fiji.

Between 1972 and 1994, Jim was appointed Sub-Dean, Pro-Dean and at times Acting Dean within the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Sydney. He served on the Board of Directors of the Royal North Shore Hospital from 1978 to 1986, including as Vice-Chairman from 1982. In 1979, he was made Honorary Life Governor of the Australian Postgraduate Medical Foundation. From 1981–84, he served on the National Board of Directors of the Australian Brain Foundation, was President of the Australian Association of Neurologists and Director of the Australian Neurological Foundation. He was also a member of the Project Grants and Medical Research Committees of the National Health and Medical Research Council from 1976 to 1993. He was appointed Sir Arthur Sims Travelling Professor in 1983 and gave lectures in Canada, South Africa and Zimbabwe and in 1989 was awarded a Commonwealth Medical Senior Fellowship to sudy and report on medical teaching in the United Kingdom.

Jim joined the Board of Governors of the Institute of Respiratory Medicine at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in 1980 and in 1984, he was appointed Head of the Division of Medicine at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.

He was elected to Fellowship of the Australian Academy of Science in 1981 and has been a member of its Council, Vice-President and Treasurer. He was elected to Fellowship of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering in 1987.

In 1990, he became Chairman of the Institute of Clinical Neurosciences at RPAH and was appointed Director of Neurosciences for the Central Sydney Area Health Service in 1995.

James was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1986, for “service to medicine, particularly in the field of neurology”.[1] In 2001, he was awarded the Centenary Medal for “service to Australian society and science in clinical neuroscience”.[1]

At present he is an Emeritus Professor with the University of Sydney (appointed in 1997) and remains a consultant to several Sydney hospitals.

Citation: Mellor, Lise (2008) McLeod, James Graham. Faculty of Medicine Online Museum and Archive, University of Sydney.

An alternate version appears in: Mellor, L. 150 Years, 150 Firsts: The People of the Faculty of Medicine (2006) Sydney, Sydney University Press.