There has never been any shortage of pioneering spirit and entrepreneurial flair in Scotland’s DNA.
Just think of all the many inventions which have been associated with Scots from Alexander Graham Bell and the telephone to John Logie Baird and television.
So perhaps, we shouldn’t be unduly surprised at the similar advances which have been made in medical science by a number of trailblazers, who were the catalysts for such significant developments as insulin, the iron lung and the MRI machine.
And, in case anybody is wondering what links that particular trio, the answer lies in their close connection to Aberdeen scientists and doctors, John MacLeod, Robert Henderson and James Hutchison, who have all advanced human knowledge.
Indeed, a north-east group is currently planning a series of events to commemorate the discovery of insulin in 1921 by a trio of scientists.
Among the latter’s number was Mr MacLeod, who studied at Aberdeen University before going on to win the Nobel Prize.
And the MacLeod Centenary Group has been established to support the charity JDRF in its mission to find a cure for type 1 diabetes.
It comprises a broad range of people across many organisations, including Aberdeen University and Aberdeen FC, who have pledged to mark the centenary by raising the profile of JDRF, awareness of type 1 diabetes and the significance of insulin.
Carol Kennedy, regional fundraiser for the organisation, said: “We want to ensure that as many people as possible realise the vital contribution which John MacLeod made in helping so many people with diabetes through his pioneering work with insulin.
“It is a chronic condition, one which has a lifelong impact on those affected by it and their families. We want to spread the word and do all we can to search for solutions.
“We will be holding a series of meetings throughout the year leading up to when JDRF will be marking the anniversary in 2021.”
Mr MacLeod was born in Dunkeld in Perthshire in 1876, but soon after his birth, his clergyman father, Robert, was transferred to Aberdeen and the family relocated.
He attended Aberdeen Grammar School and, after being recognised as an intellectually gifted youngster, entered Marischal College at Aberdeen University to study medicine.
He moved to Canada upon graduating and became director of physiology at Toronto University, where he became interested in research on patients with diabetes.
Insulin was developed during his time there in 1921, after he had engaged in groundbreaking work with students Frederick Banting and Charles Best.
Following their collaboration, Mr MacLeod received a Nobel Prize along with Banting, although he and the latter subsequently fell out spectacularly over their rival claims of who had contributed most to the discovery.
It was an unedifying climax to the partnership between these gifted scientists and cast a cloud over their lives, yet it didn’t diminish the scale of their joint achievement.
Mr MacLeod was rather deflated by the saga, but it couldn’t detract from his lofty reputation and he eventually returned to Scotland in 1928 to assume the prestigious position of Regius Professor of Physiology at Aberdeen University.
That was merely the prelude to him becoming Dean of the University of Aberdeen Medical Faculty.
He died in 1935 and is buried in his home city. There is also a plaque near his old house which recognises his contribution to saving and helping countless lives.
Robert Henderson was another north-east stalwart who ploughed an idiosyncratic furrow, but it reaped a rich dividend for many of his patients and future generations.
While working as an apprentice in a local Aberdeenshire garage, he was encouraged by one of his teachers to pursue a career in medicine.
The youngster duly embarked on a distinguished academic life, but even while he was studying, it emerged he had been drawing up an idea which required some basic hardware from a ship’s chandler.
His unique contraption was put together in the evenings and at weekends with the help of Aberdeen City Hospital’s engineers, and was mounted in a cabinet on the base of a children’s cot and quickly became known as the Henderson Respirator.
It was Britain’s first iron lung and it soon demonstrated its worth.
Because, just four weeks after its construction, it was deployed to save the life of a 10-year-old boy, farmer’s son Charles Forbes from Whitehill of New Deer in Aberdeenshire, who was suffering from infantile paralysis, now known as polio.
Despite being a ground-breaking development, the local medical officer of health condemned the ensuing publicity and, in what now seems an absurdly petty decision, Mr Henderson was disciplined for using hospital facilities to build the machine.
As a consequence, his draft document on the case was never submitted for publication.
But this oversight was eventually corrected in 1997 by a paper in the Scottish Medical Journal, leaving just the small matter of 63 years between draft and publication.
Mr Henderson, who had graduated from Aberdeen University in 1929 and became resident medical officer at the City Hospital, moved to London in 1935 and plied his trade in myriad different vocations before his death in 2000, aged 98.
But there was a touching coda to his early exploits in the Granite City, as recounted by the renowned journalist, Jack Webster, who died earlier this year.
The latter recalled: “That first iron-lung patient, Charles Forbes, really enjoyed his bonus years of life, but when he passed away in the 1950s, his brother Ian spotted a stranger among the mourners.
”It was none other than Robert Henderson, who had come up from London specially to be at the funeral service.”
The MRI scanner has also become an indispensable part of modern hospital life.
Yet it was originally the brainchild of Professor James Hutchison, known as Jim, who built the ‘Mark 1’ device which successfully scanned its first patient on August 28 1980.
He helped patent and perfect a technique, known as spin-warp imaging, which was adopted throughout the world and is still used in thousands of MRI machines globally.
The technology was developed in the 1970s by a small number of teams worldwide, including those at Aberdeen and Nottingham universities.
But it was Prof Hutchison who constructed the first full-body scanner, along with his colleagues, and their collective efforts transformed the nature of MRI research.
David Lurie, who joined the team as a young researcher at Aberdeen after completing his PhD, confirmed that many people in the scientific community had dismissed MRI as a non-viable technology, prior to the spin-warp breakthrough.
He said: “In the late 70s, the Mark 1 machine was built and it was producing images but they were still very ‘blobby’ and certainly not of diagnostic quality. This was the same with other groups around the world, in Nottingham and the US.
“But in 1980, Jim co-invented spin-warp technique with Bill Edelstein, and the difference was night and day – it dramatically improved the images overnight and they immediately became of diagnostic quality. Spin-warp is still used by every single MRI scanner in the world today and we have Jim and Bill to thank for that.”
Professor Tom Redpath, a PhD student under Prof Hutchison at the time of the breakthrough, added: “I think the team were all a bit gobsmacked to be honest.
“They had been getting comments from various researchers around the world along the lines of: ‘I don’t know why you’re bothering to do this…it’ll never work’.
“Previously, it had been taking other teams hours to get a poor quality image of a wrist or other small body part, so when we developed spin-warp and got really good images of any part of the body in around two minutes, the whole thing took off like a rocket.
“We thought: ‘Wow! This actually works!’ It was huge fun, an energising place to be.”
The beetle-browed Hutchison attended Blairgowrie High School before completing a PhD at St Andrews. Having developed an expertise in magnetic resonance, he was appointed to Aberdeen University’s medical physics team.
Prof Lurie added: “Without doubt, he was the most capable scientist I ever met. He knew about everything. Not just about MRI, he had an incredibly broad knowledge of science and engineering.
“We would occasionally come up with ideas and, when we took them to Jim, he would sometimes say: ‘Oh yes, I thought about that a few years ago’.
“He would look it up in his lab books and, sure enough, he would find something similar from five years earlier.
“Nevertheless, when group members did come up with a new idea, Jim was incredibly supportive and would help us bring it to fruition with his encyclopaedic knowledge.“
The university and the wider world mourned his death in 2018, aged 77.
But he and his compatriots, MacLeod and Henderson, should be remembered and applauded for their pivotal breakthroughs in different branches of medical science.