George John Romanes

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 14 July 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g4496
  1. Ned Stafford, Hamburg
  1. ns{at}

Anatomy lecturer whose early research improved understanding of the spinal motor system

Throughout a long and distinguished career in medicine, George John Romanes was widely recognised as an exceptional teacher of anatomy and a highly competent administrator. In the 1940s and early 1950s, however, his focus was research, and his papers investigating the spinal motor system helped open the door to a better understanding of neuron circuitry.

“His published papers have stood the test of time,” said John S Kelly, emeritus professor of pharmacology at the University of Edinburgh and coauthor of a 2011 article in the journal Neuron that detailed the importance of Romanes’s research.1

Romanes wrote his first paper, “The spinal accessory nerve in the sheep,”2 in 1940 while still a doctoral student in anatomy at the University of Cambridge. The next year he published his second paper, “Cell columns in the spinal cord of a human foetus of fourteen weeks.”3 By 1949, when he was awarded a Commonwealth Fund fellowship, he had written a dozen papers on the spinal nervous system.

The fellowship allowed him to spend a year deepening …

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