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Sir John Gaddum

Published: 05 Sep 2013 in Pharmacology Hall of Fame

Elected in 2013

Born on 31 March 1900 in Hale, Cheshire, UK
Died on 30 June 1965 in Cambridge, UK


  • Gaddum discovered a previously unknown but vital substance in the brain and intestine (Substance P) and established the role of acetylcholine in nerve transmission
  • His studies on the effects of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) led to a better understanding of serotonin and included a 1953 self-experiment to record LSD's effects under the supervision of his research team
  • His work on LSD led him to be the first to propose that 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT), a naturally occurring substance found in the body, has a role in the control of mood
  • He developed concepts such as ‘dose-ratio’ with techniques of parallel assay that are still used by the pharmacology community
  • During WWII, he studied how the toxicity of gases used in warfare, treating the effects of chemical warfare, and advised on war strategies. One such report discusses the feasibility of poisoning enemy water supplies with capsaicin, the active component of hot chillies
  • He was a founder member of the British Pharmacological Society and served repeatedly on its committees. In 1945 he proposed founding the British Journal of Pharmacology, and became the first chair of its Editorial Board. Shortly before his death in 1965, he was elected to Honorary Membership of the Society

Personal life

  • Gaddum was appointed to the Army as a Lieutenant Colonel, although he returned to academia in 1942
  • A year before his death he was knighted and awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Edinburgh
  • Correspondence between Gaddum and environmentalists, on anesthetizing white rhinoceros, documents his involvement in early efforts to save a rare species through population management