Conway Review Lecture 1991


The Lymphatic Circulation

Dr. Noel G. McHale, School of Biomedical Science, The Queen’s University of Belfast, 97 Lisburn Road, Belfast BT9 7BL

The lymphatic system represents a formidable challenge to a potential investigator and one that I am sure I would never have taken up had I had a free choice. Why, then, did I study the lymphatic circulation? Was it because I was inspired by ~ the works of William Harvey who, having demonstrated the circulation of blood, was invited to study the lymphatic circulation’? He declined to do so in the following statement’.

It is useless for you to spur me on to gird myself to any new investigation, seeing that I am now not only ripe in years but also weary. It seems to me indeed that I am entitled to ask for my honourable discharge from duty”.

Was it that I was keen to take up the guantlet that Harvey was too weary to lift. The answer is “No, it was not!” Was it then that a desire to alleviate human suffering such as that experienced by people afflicted with lymphoedema? And the answer again was “No, it was not!” Was it then the inspiring work by Howard Florey on the lymphatic system which constituted his PhD thesis, published in 1927, the title of which was “Philosophy and Pathology of the circulation of the blood and lymph”? And the answer is “No, it was not, for two reasons: firstly, at that time I had not read his PhD thesis, and secondly, my experience of the lymphatic system up to that point was greatly influenced by a colleague of mine, Denis Mawhinney, who was sharing a laboratory with me when we were doing our BSc projects. Denis worked on isolated bovine mesenteric vessels and found that study so difficult that I swore that one thing I would never study, given any choice, was the lymphatic system. However, a year later when I went to discuss my PhD project with my supervisor, Ian Roddie, he offered me a choice of projects. He said I could study lymphatics or nothing! Faced with this “offer that I couldn’t refuse” I endeavoured to look at the lymphatic system in a more positive way. I began to see that here was a system about which so little was known that a whole field that could be opened up if one put in some effort and determination.

The lymphatic circulation