Conway Review Lecture 2002
16/09/2002 in Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, 6, Kildare Street, Dublin 2
The Dyslipidaemia of Diabetes: Lessons in the Pathogenesis of Atherosclerosis
Gerald H Tomkin, Department of Diabetes and Endocrinology, Adelaide and Meath Hospital, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland
It is a great honour to be asked to give a memorial lecture but an even greater honour to be able to commemorate a scientist of the stature of Edward Joseph Conway (1894-1968) who was at the height of his career when I was a schoolboy. A modest man who seemed amazed that I would remember him and know of his fame when we had a conversation after his retirement.
There have been many tributes; however, one by Professor Maizels’ seems to have captured Professor Conway’s dedication to research. It reads: “It was not unknown for him to arrange several independent lunch appointments for the same day and then to spend the time on an experiment in his laboratory lunching on tea and a bun.” Conway was elected Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1947 and, among many other awards and honours, he was nominated by Pope John VIII as a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 1961. In Ireland, an honorary degree of Doctor of Science (TCD) in 1952 and the Boyle Medal by the Royal Dublin Society both demonstrate our appreciation of this great scientist.
Professor Conway’s major fields of interest were three-fold and involved renal function, ionic balance of tissues (including the chemical evolution of the ocean)’ and ionic exchanges of yeast with the secretion of acid by yeast and by gastric mucosa). His mathematical approach to come to conclusions about fundamental processes made him quite exceptional. His ability to stimulate people — that stimulation perhaps sometimes by antagonism — resulted in much of his scientific ideas being taken up by others, surely a definition of a great scientist. Everyone of my generation will remember the Conway units, a very simple glass dish containing two concentric chambers providing a highly accurate but simple and versatile method of microanalysis, based on microdistillation at atmospheric pressure.’ With this plate, he discovered that ammonia is normally not detectable in blood but rapidly develops after collection.° These experiments shed new light on the ammonia in the blood and the effects of liver disease.