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Biographical entry Simmons, Roy Thomas (1906 - 1975)

Born
29 April 1906
Heidelberg, Victoria, Australia
Died
28 February 1975
East Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Occupation
Biochemist

Summary

Roy Thomas Simmons was Consultant Serologist (Prinicipal Scientific Officer) at the Commonwealth Serum Laboratory (CSL) in Victoria from 1961 to 1971. He started there as a temporary laboratory assistant in 1924. From 1927 to 1935 Simmons was seconded to the Commonwealth Department of Health as a relieving biochemist. While at CSL he worked mainly on blood groups and the Rh factor. His work made an outstanding contribution to the safety of blood transfusion in Australia, and the detection and understanding of Rh sensitisation, especially in relation to haemolytic disease of the newborn. He also used blood groups for anthropological studies, including collaborating with D. Carleton Gajdusek in 1955 on studies of a central nervous system disorder of the Fore people of New Guinea. Gajdusek concluded that it was transmitted by the ritualistic eating of the brains of deceased tribal members.

Details

After graduating from the Junior School of the Working Men's College (1923circa), Roy Thomas Simmons enrolled in a Diploma of Chemistry. He graduated in 1926 and became an Associate of the Working Men's College in Inorganic Chemistry. While undertaking his studies, Simmons began working as a temporary laboratory assistant at the Commonwealth Serum Laboratory (CSL) in 1924. He remained with CSL until his retirement in 1971. By 1927 he had increased his knowledge of biochemistry and bacteriology to such an extent that he was seconded to the Commonwealth Department of Health as a relieving biochemist controlling diagnostic procedures throughout Australia.

Simmons returned to the CSL in 1936 to help establish a Research Department there in which he was appointed personal assistant and biochemist to the Director of Research. Simmons became the first person in the world to isolate bacteriophages against diphtheria microbes, thus instigating work on the first vaccine. He also worked on other illnesses such as whooping cough, but by the early1940s his main interest was in blood groups. Roy Simmons was the first in Australia to discover the significance of the Rh factor and introduced the exchange blood transfusion technique to fight haemolytic disease in the newborn.

From 1943 to 1971 Roy Simmons headed the free, nationwide blood group reference service of CSL. This work was invaluable to hospitals in screening patients and trying to find compatible blood donors. The blood group laboratory produced work of such high quality that in 1965 the World Health Organisation chose it to be the testing laboratory of the entire South-Pacific region.

Overall the work of Roy Thomas Simmons and his collaborators helped dispel many myths and produce new vaccines and treatment regimes. One of his greatest contributions was the Anti-Rh agent which has helped prevent many deaths of Rh-positive babies carried by Rh-negative mothers (the mother's immune system sees the baby's Rh+ blood as foreign and a danger so initiates an immune reaction to kill of the perceived 'threat').

Events

1924 - 1927
Career position - Laboratory Assistant at the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories (CSL) in Parkville, Victoria
1926
Education - Diploma of Organic and Inorganic Chemistry completed at the Working Men's College in Melbourne
1927 - 1935
Career position - Relieving Biochemist for the Commonwealth Department of Health (Australia wide)
1936 - 1947
Career position - Personal Assistant and Biochemist to the Director of Research at CSL
1940 -
Career position - Began research into blood-groups
1940 - 1956
Career position - Head of production and quality control of C.S.L. products
1943 - 1971
Career position - CSL's free blood-group reference service for Australia established
1947 - 1961
Career position - Consultant / Seologist at CSL
1957 - 1970
Career position - Studied the fatal neurological disorder kuru ('laughing sickness') found in New Guinea
1961 - 1971
Career position - Principal Scientific Officer / Consultant Serologist at CSL
1965 -
Career position - The World Health Organization nominated his laboratory as its blood-group reference centre for the South Pacific region
1965
Education - Honorary Doctor of Science (DSc) received from the University of Melbourne
1971
Life event - Retired

Published resources

Book Sections

  • Egan, Bryan, 'Simmons, Roy Thomas (1906-1975), Medical Scientist', in John Ritchie and Diane Langmore (eds), Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 16, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 2002, pp. 242-243. Also available at http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A160289b.htm. Details

Journal Articles

  • 'Obituary: Roy Thomas Simmons, DSc, FRACI, FRACI (Hon.), FISH, FRACI', Pathology, vol. 8, no. 1, 1976, pp. 83-84. Details
  • Birdsell, J. B., 'Obituary: Roy Thomas Simmons 1906-1975', American journal of physical anthropology, vol. 45, no. 1, 1976, pp. 1-4. Details

Online Resources

See also

Rosanne Walker & Annette Alafaci