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Graham Ayliffe

BMJ 2017; 358 doi: (Published 10 July 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;358:j3333
  1. Alasdair Geddes, professor of infection
  1. University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK
  1. a.m.geddes{at}

Recognised that antibiotic resistance was a “ticking time bomb”

In the 1960s—with the discovery of the mechanism of synthesis of the penicillin nucleus, and the introduction of other groups of antimicrobial agents—many new antibiotics became available: ready eradication of bacterial infections seemed possible. The potential of resistance to antibiotics was not considered to be a problem except to a very few—one of whom was Graham Ayliffe, who has died at the age of 91.

After three years in the Royal Navy working as a sick bay attendant and laboratory technician, Graham studied medicine (funded by a scholarship for former servicemen) at Bristol University Medical School, where he was awarded an intercalated honours BSc in physiology—then a very rare achievement.

“A ticking time bomb”

He undertook postgraduate training with Bill Gillespie, one of the pioneers of the diagnosis and treatment of hospital acquired infections. Graham moved to the Hammersmith Hospital in London in 1959 to work with Mary Barberthe doyenne of antibiotics at …

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