Dr Robert Stanley McElhinney BSc CChem FRSC
1933 - 2005
Stanley McElhinney, who has died aged 72, was associated with breakthroughs in the treatment of both cancer and leprosy. Combining a career in medical research with voluntary work for the Leprosy Mission, he was also a committed Christian.
A colleague at Trinity College Dublin, Prof Brian McMurry, said: "Stanley was an outstanding medicinal chemist with a detailed knowledge of the literature in his field. He became firm friends with colleagues in the UK, Germany and elsewhere and established very useful collaborations with them."
Ken Gibson, chief executive of the Leprosy Mission, recalled a wonderful mentor. "For him every conversation was a discovery," he said. "For the rest of us every conversation with Stanley was an education."
Born in 1933, he was the eldest of the four children of Robert McElhinney and his wife, Gertrude (nee McMahon), Milford, Co Donegal. Educated at Ramelton national school and Coleraine Academical Institution, he studied chemistry at Queen's University Belfast.
After completing a PhD in synthetic chemistry at Queen's in 1958, he carried out post-doctoral research in the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, with Dr RC Elderfield, designing nitrogen mustards and ethylene amines (as then-novel anti-cancer agents).
Returning to Ireland, he assisted Dr Vincent Barry's group in the Medical Research Council Laboratories at Trinity, to shift the emphasis from chemotherapy of mycobacterial disease to chemotherapy of cancer.
Funded additionally by the Irish Cancer Society and in collaboration with other laboratories in the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer, he designed nucleosides of thio-sugars and molecular combinations of anti-metabolites (5-fluorouracil) and alkylating agents (nitrosoureas) with anti-cancer activity.
Following this he joined the chemistry department in Trinity as research associate, where his experience with nitrosourea led to the development of powerful DNA repair enzyme-inactivators which, when co-administered with nitrosoureas, enhanced their clinical anti-cancer performance.
This work was carried out in collaboration with the Paterson Institute for Cancer Research in Manchester. He also served as deputy director and later co-ordinator of the MRC Laboratories in Ireland.
Most recently, working with Prof McMurry and a team at the Paterson Institute led by Dr Geoffrey Margison, he was a key figure in the development of Patrin which has been in a phase 2 clinical trial against melanoma.
Earlier in his career he joined the team that had made Clofazimine, the patent for which had been transferred to the Indian government. He was sent to India in the mid-1970s to advise on its manufacture, and it still remains a major drug in the treatment of leprosy.
He was a member of the RDS council for almost 20 years. He also served as a trustee of the National Library of Ireland and was a former science secretary of the Royal Irish Academy. An elder for the Presbyterian Church, he was deeply involved in the work of the Bible Society.
Renowned for his prodigious memory, he could accurately recall events, facts and figures with amazing speed, yet punctuality was something he never mastered.
A dedicated gardener, he also kept wolfhounds and a prize-winning St Bernard named Hannibal.
He lived with his family in Delgany, Co Wicklow. Predeceased by his wife Margaret in 1998, he is survived by his daughters, Catherine and Helena, sons Andrew and Peter, brothers Eric and Cyril and sister Bertha.
Robert Stanley McElhinney: born September 24th, 1933; died October 10th, 2005.
Irish Times, 22/10/05
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