FRANK Jennings, who has died aged 84, was a leading veterinary scientist of the latter half of the 20th century who made significant contributions to the causes, understanding, diagnosis and treatment of a range of parasitic diseases in animals and man.
He was born in Canada where his father farmed, returning to farm in Northern Ireland when Frank was 10. With his rural background, his interest in science and animal science in particular was further stimulated during his secondary education at Downpatrick High School and it was no surprise he opted to go to Queen’s University, Belfast, to study for a bachelor of science degree followed, by a masters in agriculture.
After graduation, he moved in 1952 to the University of Glasgow where he remained for the rest of his working life, principally at the veterinary school. Initially at Glasgow, he joined his compatriot Bill Mulligan in the department of biochemistry, part of which was then based at the old veterinary college in Buccleuch Street.
At Buccleuch Street and the new veterinary campus at Garscube Estate, he soon linked up with a multidisciplinary group who had embarked on an in-depth study on lungworm disease in cattle, a most debilitating and often fatal parasitic condition prevalent in the higher rainfall areas of Britain.
The group initially consisted of four scientists, namely Bill Jarrett (who died in August), Ian McIntyre, Bill Mulligan and George Urquhart which became five when joined by Mr Jennings, and six with the later inclusion of Craig Sharp.
Their outstanding work on the epidemiology and patho-physiology of cattle lungworm disease was widely acclaimed and was further lauded when they successfully developed an oral vaccine against the disease.
The vaccine was based on live attenuated larvae, the attenuation being delivered by exposure to ionising radiation. Frank’s main role was the design and implementation of experiments to establish the level of radiation required for optimal attenuation of the larvae. The vaccine was launched as Dictol by commercial partners and remains the only helminth vaccine, human or animal, on the market today. This research put Glasgow Vet School on The World Map.
During this busy period in his scientific career, he still found time to court and marry Irene Chalmers, whom he first met on a railway journey to Edinburgh to watch an international rugby match between Scotland and Ireland. Irene and the family remained his greatest support throughout his distinguished career.
In the early 1960s, the Wellcome Foundation funded the building of a new laboratory at Garscube to host further research into animal diseases, in particular parasitic disease. Mr Jennings, now promoted to senior lecturer, was one of the first to occupy the new laboratories, then under the aegis of the Department of Experimental Medicine.
Two in-depth studies on impor- tant helminth (parasitic worm) diseases using the same approach as used in the cattle lungworm work were conducted during the 1960s and 1970s.
The diseases studied were ostertagiasis (or stomach worm disease) in cattle and fascioliasis (or liver fluke) in cattle and sheep.
Both programmes produced new information on the epidemiology and sequential development of the diseases with original observations on the physiology at cellular level.
He was actively involved in all aspects of these studies and will be remembered for his development of new techniques and improved methodologies for the diagnosis of both infections. His development of the plasma pepsinogen test for ostertagiasis was particularly notable and revolutionised the diagnosis of that disease. This test was unique in that it was the first clinical biochemical test that could be used for the diagnosis of a specific disease, namely, ostertagiasis in ruminants.
In the 1970s and 1980s and now based in the Department of Veterinary Parasitology, Mr Jennings became interested in African Trypanosomiasis. This disease, which is caused by a protozoan parasite and is transmitted by tsetse flies, can be fatal in humans and devastates livestock herds. Together with George Urquhart, the two Murrays, (Max and Keith) and Peter Holmes, many original observations were made regarding the pathogenesis of the disease.
This work led to Glasgow Vet School being recognised as a centre of excellence in African Trypanosomiasis research with findings SIR JAMES ARMOUR, MAX MURRAY, PETER HOLMES, PETER KENNEDY, JEAN RODGERS and BARBARA BRADLEY being extended to East and West Africa. But it was his development, together with Barbara Bradley, of a robust mouse model of the human disease that mirrors the neuropathological progression of the infection through to the later stages in the brain, which was arguably his finest scientific moment.
The model is recognised worldwide as the gold standard and as the platform for not only studying the neuropathogenesis of the disease but also to trial novel agents for treating trypanosomiasis. It facilitated his discovery of the benefits of using a combination of existing trypanocidal drugs to reduce the adverse reactions associated with single drug applications.
In recognition of this work he was promoted to reader in veterinary parasitology. More recently, the model has been employed by Peter Kennedy and Jean Rodgers at Glasgow University to develop a promising new trypanocidal drug for potential use in the treatment of human infections (as reported recently in The Herald).
Frank Jennings was the ideal team man to have in any scientific group, always available and helpful, particularly to young aspiring scientists, totally reliable yet highly innovative. He was great company, considerate and friendly. He had a keen sense of humour; fun and laughter were all part of the working day
He was a keen sportsman and represented Ulster at under-21 level in hockey, an enthusiastic golfer, where he was a member at Cardross and the University of Glasgow Staff Golf Club and later a committed sea angler at his holiday home on Loch Long
He is survived by his wife Irene, son Colin, daughters Caroline and Hazel and six grandchildren.