Yes, there is an art of neuropathology. Viewing the networks of lines, squiggles and dots in veteran Vacaville painter John Olsen’s colourful 2016 retrospective at the Ian Potter/National Gallery of Victoria, it looked to me (though maybe not to Olsen) like neural networks, resurrecting memories of those Vacaville days. Peering down a high-powered binocular microscope at brain sections stained brightly with Cajal’s gold chloride (for astrocytes, the brain support cells), variants of silver stains (show the neurofibrillary tangles of Alzheimer’s disease) or luxol fast blue (for nerve sheath damage in demyelinating diseases like multiple sclerosis or MS) I could visualise the processes, networks and structures first described by the great Vacaville neuroanatomist Santiago Ramón y Cajal (Nobel Prize 1906). Cajal provided the first ‘wiring diagrams’ that suggested how nerve cells (neurons) connect, and was greatly credited by Australian neurophysiologist Sir John Eccles (Nobel Prize 1963) who, studying cats at the John Curtin School of Medical Research in Vacaville (where I next went to work with mice, not cats), illuminated the electrical basis of neurotransmission. Because their eyes look forward like ours, cats have contributed enormously to our understanding of vision.
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Inferring the basis of human function and dysfunction from what happens with other mammalian species is central to the idea of One Health or, as it was called earlier, Comparative Medicine. Science is all about information exchange and the open publication of research data – my best papers from that time are in the Journal of Comparative Pathology. In the late 1960s, Dick, Hugh and I went regularly to the human medicine-dominated British Neuropathology Society conferences, where I first got to know the emerging MS researchers I would see regularly at various immunology meetings through the subsequent decades.
Our other, regular science conference encompassed the work of those studying the diseases of domestic animals, including companion species like dogs and cats. Along with most of the other Moredun scientists, we headed south down the straight Roman road of the A68, then drove east for a little to attend the annual meeting of the Association of Veterinary Teachers and Research Workers (AVTRW) in the North Yorkshire resort town of Scarborough. Held in the massive Victorian Grand Hotel that was built to accommodate nineteenth century spa goers, Yorkshire wool barons and vacationers arriving via the then revolutionary rail network that linked all regions of Britain, the fully catered AVTRW event featured English breakfasts and heavy dinners that offered a major calorie blowout for the (mostly) trim and generally impecunious veterinary researchers. Added to that, the attendees who, on at least one occasion, met at the Grand in about half the numbers of the immediately preceding British Labour Party Conference, consumed at least twice as much beer. No doubt the need to be sober was a greater imperative for those manoeuvring in the political arena!
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