+44 (0)114 215 9667 mellanbycentre@sheffield.ac.uk

About the Mellanby Centre

Sir Edward Mellanby 

The British physician and pharmacologist Sir Edward Mellanby was born in West Hartlepool, in England, the youngest son of John Mellanby, a shipyard owner, and his wife Mary Isabella Lawson.  Mellanby attended Barnard Castle School and Emmanuel College in Cambridge, England, where he studied physiology.  After working as a research student from 1905 to 1907, Mellanby studied medicine at St. Thomas’s Hospital in London, and he held a fellowship for medical research from 1910 through 1912.  He was married in 1914 to May Tweedy, of London, who was also a researcher in physiology.  The following year Mellanby became a medical doctor.

From 1913 to 1920, Mellanby served as a lecturer at King’s College for Women in London, where he later became a professor in physiology.  In 1914, the Medical Research Committee of the college asked Mellanby to investigate the cause of rickets, a bone disease characterised by bone pain, skeletal deformity, impaired growth and weakness.

Searching for a dietary deficiency that caused rickets, Mellanby decided to test porridge, the staple food of Scotland, by feeding a group of dogs a diet consisting exclusively of oats.  Inadvertently, the dogs were kept indoors, without exposure to sunlight, during the experiment.  In 1919, Mellanby reported that he produced rickets in the dogs through the restrictive diet.  He then cured the dogs of rickets by adding cod-liver oil to their diet.  Mellanby concluded that a component of cod-liver oil that the oats did not contain was essential in preventing rickets.  As a result, Mellanby proposed that rickets was caused by the absence of a dietary factor.

Scientist would later discover that rickets is prevented by vitamin D, which can either be consumed as a dietary factor or produced naturally by the body when exposed to sunlight.  Mellanby’s work laid the foundation for this conclusion, since the cod-liver oil fed to the dogs was a good source of vitamin D and the dogs were raised without exposure to sunlight.

In 1920, Mellanby was appointed chair of the pharmacology department at the University of Sheffield in England, and as an honorary physician to the Royal Infirmary.  He held these positions until 1933, when he became secretary of the Medical Research Council, which had been established by the British Government in 1913.  He was closely involved with the planning of the new Institute of Medical Research, which opened in 1950 in London.

During World War II, Mellanby was involved with programmes to create a wartime diet as well as programmes to promote the welfare of both military and civilian personnel.  After retiring from the Medical Research Council in 1949, he travelled to India, Australia and New Zealand to serve as an advisor.  After his return to England, he gave several public lectures.  Mellanby died on January 30, 1955, while working in his London laboratory.





The Mellanby Centre

 The University of Sheffield’s Medical School has a strong track record in basic, translational and clinical bone research. The recent era began with the establishment of the Department of Chemical Pathology in 1974 by Professor Jack Martin and continued as the Department of Human Metabolism and Clinical Biochemistry under the leadership of Professor Graham Russell for 25 years to 2001. Its standing in bone research is best illustrated in an independent assessment by Evidence Ltd, which ranked the University of Sheffield top in the UK (UK Bone Research Report 2007). In agreement with this, ISI Thomson ranked the University of Sheffield number one in the UK and among the top four academic centres in the world for its research into osteoporosis. The Mellanby Centre for Bone Research was established by The University of Sheffield in 2009 as a centre of excellence which brings together researchers from the Medical School, the School of Health and Related Research, the School of Clinical Dentistry, the Department of Biomedical SciencesInsigneo Institute for in silico Medicine and Centre for Computational Imaging and Simulation Technologies in Biomedicine.

The centre will undertake to:

  • Establish a focus for bone research at the University of Sheffield called the ‘Mellanby Centre for Bone Research’ (MCBR).
  • Foster the development of interdisciplinary research across the University of Sheffield.
  • Develop collaborative research programmes and grant applications within the MCBR.
  • Position the MCBR to apply for externally funded centre status.
  • Develop our links with the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry.
  • Widen the profile of bone research at the University of Sheffield.