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Richard Cremer

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: (Published 09 June 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g3706
  1. Janet Fricker, Hemel Hempstead
  1. janet.fricker1{at}

Surrey GP who discovered that phototherapy could treat jaundice

Richard “Dick” Cremer’s discovery—with the help of his nursing, biochemistry, and engineering colleagues—that sunlight could cure jaundiced babies has been cited as a prime example of medical serendipity. That said, it took a questioning mind and scientific rigor to tease out the significance of the finding and the potential for a practical solution.

The practice of phototherapy for jaundiced babies, now used in almost every hospital in the world, resulted from a simple observation by Cremer in 1956, that the bilirubin content of a blood sample taken from a jaundiced baby was reduced when the specimen was inadvertently left on a windowsill in direct sunlight. The finding overcame the need for babies with neonatal hyperbilirubinemia to be treated by exchange transfusion, and prevented brain damage in thousands of jaundiced infants worldwide. It is widely acknowledged as one of the major 20th century advances in paediatrics.

At the time Cremer was working as a paediatric registrar at Rochford Hospital, near Southend, where he cared for the occupants of the premature baby unit. Judy Ward, the sister appointed for “her known skill in rearing puppies,”1 was a fresh air enthusiast who, on warm summer days, wheeled the infants …

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