1940s radiobiology

Douglas E Lea

Radiobiological researches using tissue culture continued and in May 1940 Ilse Lasnitzki and D E Lea, both from the Strangeways Research Laboratories in Cambridge, wrote on the effect of wavelength on the biological effects of irradiation (Ilse and Lea BJR 1940; 13(149): 149-162). They produced a curve of the relative effectiveness of radiation against radiation quality. In May 1946 Lea investigated the action of radiation on viruses (Lea BJR 1946; 19(221): 205-212).


Chart showing correlation between active dose and virus diameter

Source: Lea BJR 1946; 19(221): 205-212

Lea’s influential book “The Actions of Radiation of Living Cells” was published in 1946 and was reviewed in the BJR (J. A. C. BJR 1946; 19(224): 313). The book is in our historical collection.  Sadly Douglas Lea died in a tragic accident in 1947 (L. H. G. BJR 1947; 20(236): 335-337) and he was deeply mourned by the radiological community.

In August 1940 Sidney Russ and G M Scott from the Barnato Joel Laboratories at the Middlesex Hospital described the biological effects on tumour growth when the tumour was not itself irradiated (Russ and Scott BJR 1940; 13(152): 267-272). Sidney Russ was very influential and his books are in the historical book collection of the Institute.

In February 1941 (Spear and Glücksmann BJR 1940; 14(158): 65–76) F G Spear and A Glücksmann from Cambridge produced another follow up to their papers of 1938 (Spear and Glücksmann BJR 1938; 11(128): 533-553) and 1939 (Glücksmann and Spear BJR 1939; 12(140): 486-498). They had shown that exposure to radiation was followed by a reduction in cell division, a change in the ratio of the phases of mitosis and the appearance of degenerative cells.  The current paper looked at the effects of gamma radiation on living cells.

Chart showing variation in mitotic and degenerative cell

Source: Spear and Glücksmann BJR 1940; 14(158): 65–76

In  November 1944 Spear studied the effect of neutrons on bacterial and measured the relative actions of gamma rays and neutrons (Spear BJR 1944; 17(203): 348–351) and then in December 1944 with Katherine Tansley he looked at the action of neutrons on the developing rat retina (Spear and Tansley BJR 1944; 17(204): 374–379) and again compared the action to that of gamma rays.


Louis Harold Gray and John Read

L H Gray and John Read from Mount Vernon Hospital published a series of papers on the effects of ionizing radiation on the broad bean root (Gray and Read BJR 1942; 15(169): 11–16). The first appeared in January 1942 and further studies followed and were published in the BJR in subsequent  years. JC Morrtam had first used the growing tip of the broad bean root in 1913 for his radiobiological research. 

L H Gray wrote on the topic of dose rate in November 1944 (Gray BJR 1944; 17(203): 327-335) and reviewed his recent experimental work.

 Influence of dosage rate upon the biological effects produced by x rays

Source: Gray BJR 1944; 17(203): 327-335

The problem was complex one and Gray hoped that studies of living systems might shed some light on clinical problems. The use of living systems posed no problems when bean shoots or tissue cultures are used. There are ethical issues when animal experiments are performed and in August 6th two letters were published in The Lancet that criticised painful animal experimentation. In November 1949 (Read BJR 1949; 22(263): 671-672) John Read justified lethal animal experimentation in a letter to the editor of the BJR. It is worth reading and the moral issues of animal experimentation are still with us. In November 1940 (Gray et al. BJR 1940; 13(155): 371–388) L H Gray with J C Mottram, John Read and F G Spear published a long and interesting study of the biological effects of fast neutrons.

Quantitative results of fast neutron irradiation

Source: Gray et al. BJR 1940; 13(155): 371–388)

The paper descried their methods on measuring the dose of fast neutrons and radiobiological experiments with chick embryo fibroblasts and the bean root are recounted. The physical effects of neutrons are very different from those of X-rays or gamma rays.

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