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Graham Russell

PhD, DM(Oxon), MD, FRCP, FRCPath. FMedSci, FRS


Emeritus Professor of Musculoskeletal Pharmacology

Graham Russell (R G G Russell) graduated with First Class Honours in Biochemistry from the University of Cambridge in 1962 and subsequently gained his PhD on pyrophosphate metabolism from the MRC Mineral Metabolism Unit at the University of Leeds. In 1965, he joined Dr Herbert Fleisch’s Medical Research Institute in Davos, Switzerland, and their collaborative work led to the discovery of the biological effects of bisphosphonates. He then moved to Oxford University, where he continued research based at the Nuffield Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Working with Roger Smith, this led to the first and successful clinical applications of bisphosphonates in Paget’s disease of bone. Concurrently, he completed his medical degree with distinction in 1971. He held the Medical Research Fellowship at St Peter’s College from 1972-76. He was awarded his DM at Oxford in 1976, and also gained Membership and then the Fellowship of the Royal Colleges of Physicians and of Pathology.

During the 1970s, he held appointments in the University of Berne with Herbert Fleisch, and at Harvard University with John Potts and Stephen Krane as the Chiefs of the Endocrine and Arthritis Units respectively at the Massachusetts General Hospital, before moving in 1976 to the Department of Chemical Pathology in the University of Sheffield Medical School, under the leadership of Jack Martin. He became Professor and Head of Department of Human Metabolism and Clinical Biochemistry in 1977. Over the following years he helped to establish Sheffield as a major international centre for the study of basic and clinical aspects of bone diseases, and his group have nurtured many clinicians and PhDs who now hold senior positions in the field.

He has worked on topics related to calcium metabolism and bone diseases throughout his career and is author of more than 500 publications. He has played a central role in studying the biological effects of bisphosphonates, and in their clinical development and evaluation for the treatment of bone disorders, which includes Paget’s disease, myeloma, cancer metastases in bone, and osteoporosis. The use of bisphosphonates has now grown to a multi-billion dollar activity by the pharmaceutical industry. During the 1990s, Michael Rogers and others within his group in Sheffield elucidated the molecular mechanisms of action of the bisphosphonates, and showed that nitrogen-containing bisphosphonates act as inhibitors of mevalonate metabolism resulting in inhibition of protein prenylation. His research interests have included bone cell biology, pathogenic mechanisms in bone and joint diseases such as arthritis, myeloma, bone metastases, and osteoporosis, the evaluation of new therapeutic agents and their mode of action, and the pharmacology of bone and cartilage.

He has held several national and international appointments in scientific and charitable activities related to bone disease and arthritis. For the Nuffield Foundation (UK), he was Chairman of the Oliver Bird Committee from 1996-2003. He has been Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the National Association for Pagets Disease (UK), and of several Research Committees including the MRC, Research into Ageing, and the Arthritis Research UK (formerly ARC). In April 1997 he was Chairman of the 25th European Symposium for Calcified Tissues held in Harrogate, UK. From 1998-2001 he was the President of the International Bone and Mineral Society (IBMS), the longest established international academic society in this field. In 1986 he was one of the founding members of the National Osteoporosis Society (NOS, UK), which has grown to become one of the largest national charities devoted to osteoporosis, and from 2000-2002 he was Chairman of its Council of Management.

Among awards, he was Heberden Orator of the BSR in 1993, and was recipient of the John B. Johnson award of the Paget’s Foundation (USA) in 1997, and the Kohn award of the NOS in 2000. He received the W F Neuman award of the American Society of Bone and Mineral Metabolism in 2000. This is the most senior award of the ASBMR and he was the first British scientist to receive it. In 2007 he received the Pieter Gaillard Founders award of the IBMS, and in 2008 was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London.

In 2001 he moved back to the University of Oxford as the holder of the newly established Norman Collisson Chair of Musculoskeletal Sciences, and became a Professorial Fellow at St Peter’s College. From 2003-6 he was Head of the Nuffield Department of Orthopaedic Surgery (now NDORMS). He was the first Director of the Oxford University Institute of Musculoskeletal Sciences (the Botnar Research Centre), from 2002-7. He is now Professor of Musculoskeletal Pharmacology and continues his research within the Botnar Research Centre, and also in the Mellanby Centre for Bone Research at Sheffield University.

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