Thomas Symington

BMJ 2007; 335 doi: (Published 13 September 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;335:569
  1. Alan Symington

    Professor Sir Thomas Symington, one of the giants of morbid anatomy of the 20th century, died at the age of 92 years on 30 April 2007. A great leader and communicator, he carried out ground breaking research into the function of the adrenal gland which continues to affect the practice of medicine to this day.

    His academic training and background, graduating from Glasgow University in biochemistry in 1936 and then in medicine in 1941, was to influence his entire career. Tissue histological patterns in health and disease for him were static pictures set in a single point in time that gave no inkling as to their functional properties. Accordingly, his research aims were to integrate function with structure; the adrenal gland was an ideal model. Working with his team in the 1950s and '60s , he carried out necropsies at all hours of the day and night comparing adrenal cortical structure in subjects dying suddenly with that in patients at the end of their illnesses. This led him to propose for the first time the functional zonation of the adrenal cortex. Thereafter, using new morphological and chemical techniques, an understanding of the complicated structure emerged together with an explanation of the role of the cells in different zones of the adrenal cortex with respect to the production of the various types of steroid hormones. This research opened up …

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