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Martin, Charles James


(b. Hackney. England, 9 January 1866; d. Chesterton, near Cambridge, England, 15 February 1955)

physiology, physiological chemistry, microbiology, nutrition.

Following preliminary education at a boarding school in Hastings, in 1881 Martin became a junior clerk in a London life insurance company where his father worked as an actuary. Martin’s growing interest in science and his admiration for his uncle. Francis Buckell, a country practitioner in Hampshire, soon led him to seek medical training. At the age of seventeen, after passing his matriculation, he began medical studies at St. Thomas’s Hospital. London.

Some of Martin’s courses were given at Guy’s Hospital, where he met and developed a special affection for fellow student Ernest H. Starling. Frederick Gowland Hopkins, five years Martin’s senior, was working as an assistant chemist in Thomas Stevenson’s laboratory at Guy’s Hospital at the time and took a special interest in Martin, who was allowed to work in the laboratory as well. When the University of London granted Martin the B.Sc. degree in 1886, he won honors in physiology and the University Gold Medal.

Following in the footsteps of other British medical graduates who sought careers in physiology or related disciplines. Martin went to study with Carl Ludwig at the world-renowned Leipzig Physiological Institute. He was soon invited to be a demonstrator in Gerald F. Yeo’s department of physiology at King’s College, London. While holding this position. Martin completed his medical studies and was awarded the M. B. degree by London University in 1890. When he was twenty-five, Martin accepted the position of demonstrator in physiology at the medical school of the University of Sydney, Australia, where he succeeded Almroth Wright. Shortly before his departure for Australia, Martin married Edythe Cross, the daughter of a Hastings architect.

During the second half of the nineteenth century, there was growing interest in the chemistry and physiological effects of snake venom. Australia provided the snakes, and Martin’s sophistication in biochemical techniques learned from Hopkins, Ludwig, and Yeo enabled him to study the physiological actions of the various components of snake venom that he separated.

An innovative investigator and resourceful inventor, Martin designed some of the apparatus he used in these experiments. One of the most important pieces of equipment he developed was the gelatin ultrafilter, produced by pouring melted gelatin into the pores of a Pasteur filter. This enabled him to separate heat-coagulable from uncoagulable protein elements. In a series of sophisticated experiments that represents one of his most enduring scientific contributions. Martin separated the venom of the black snake (Notechis Pseudechis) into three components; a neurotoxin, a cytolytic substance, and an enzyme that triggered intravascular coagulation.

These experiments, designed to identify the various components of black snake venom, were widely heralded, Especially important was the series of studies Martin conducted to characterize the local and systemic effects of the protein constituents of the venom. Combining many sophisticated techniques and using various animals, Martin demonstrated that the effects on the animal varied dramatically, depending upon the dose and route of administration of the different protein components of the venom.

Carefully planned experiments revealed that the substance that caused death by intravascular coagulation was heat labile. Moreover, when this substance was injected subcutaneously, intravascular coagulation was not the cause of death; the animal succumbed to asphyxiation through suppression of the respiratory center of the brain. Martin’s premise that variations in the substance’s diffusibility in the animal accounted for this difference in the mode of death was supported by results derived from the use of his gelatin filter in an additional series of experiments. Practical application of these discoveries in the treatment of snake bites became possible as Martin and others laid the scientific foundations for serum therapy based upon their research into toxicology and immunology. Martin viewed his work on various aspects of snake venom as his most important scientific contribution.

In 1897 Martin left Sydney to accept the position of lecturer in physiology at the medical school of the University of Melbourne. There he studied the immunology of snake venom and undertook investigations of the metabolism and heat regulation of marsupials. A productive investigator, Martin had published more than two dozen papers, mainly dealing with snake venom, by 1901, when he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society.

In 1903 Martin returned to London as director of the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine. In acknowledgment of his success as an investigator and teacher, he was selected over eight other candidates for the position. Incorporated in 1891 as the British Institute of Preventive Medicine, the institute was organized to support basic scientific research into the etiology, prevention, and treatment of disease and to develop specific substances, such as vaccines and antitoxins, for the prevention and cure of disease. The Lister Institute flourished under Martin’s direction; becoming a productive research center of international stature. There, the scope of Martin’s own research effort expanded to include the biochemistry of proteins, the role of protein and vitamins in nutrition, mammalian thermal regulation, and tropical diseases. In 1905 the Lister Institute was incorporated into London University, and departments of protozoology, statistics, and entomology were soon added.

Concern about the increasing incidence of bubonic plague in India led to the establishment in 1904 of the Commission for Investigation of Plague in India Martin spent several months in India in 1905 and organized studies into the cause and prevention of plague at the Lister Institute that ultimately demonstrated the role of fleas in transmitting the disease from rats infected with a specific bacterium (Yersinia pestis).

During World War I, Martin’s research shifted to the infections diseases encountered by military personnel. He undertook investigations into various types of dysentery, jaundice, and meningitis. The war effort strained the resources of Britain to feed its troops and people, and led to increased emphasis at the institute on the scientific aspects of nutrition and the treatment of nutritional disorders. Nutrition had been a subject of research there for more than a decade, and it was under Martin’s direction that Casimir Funk undertook his classic studies on nutritional deficiency and vitamins.

Martin resigned as director of the Lister Institute in 1930 and returned to Australia as director of the Division of Animal Nutrition at the University of Adelaide. He arrived in Adelaide in April 1931 but remained in Australia for only two years, retiring at the age of sixty-seven to a pleasant estate, Roebuck House, at Chestertown, near Cambridge, England. Unable to give up his scientific interests and activity. Martin soon became affiliated with the department of animal pathology at Cambridge, where, in conjunction with scientists at the Lister Institute, he continued his experiments on nutrition.

Like most London-based organizations, the Lister Institute found its activities severely disrupted by World War II. Martin invited the Division of Nutrition to transfer its apparatus and activities to his estate. Nutritional research once again took on strategic importance during World War II. By this time, Martin’s role was largely that of elder statesman. To his younger colleagues he brought his broad experience in the biochemistry and the pathophysiology of nutrition, and his ability to define problems and direct research with wisdom and generosity. Like his teacher Carl Ludwig, Martin was intimately involved in the conception of research projects, the performance of experiments, and the interpretation of data from dozens of studies, the results of which were reported under the names of his pupils alone. Martin was generous with his time and ideas, and was greatly admired by his pupils and colleagues for his unselfishness and lack of concern regarding recognition of his contributions to their work.

Following a long and productive career, Martin died at the age of eighty-nine. His accomplishments were acknowledged by fellowships in King’s College, London, the Royal College of Physicians, and the Royal Society : the latter awarded him a Royal Medal in 1923. He received honorary degrees from the universities of Sheffield, Dublin, Edinburgh, Adelaide, and Cambridge. Martin was knighted in 1927 for his many contributions to medical science.


I.Original Works. Among Martin’s more important publications representing his diverse interests are “A Rapid Method of Separating Colloids from Crystalloids in Solutions Containing Both,” in Journal of Physiology, 20 (1896), 364-371; “The Contribution of Experiments with Snake Venom to the Development of Our Knowledge of Immunity. Discussion on Immunity,” in British Medical Journal (1904), 2 , 574-577; “Snake Poison and Snakebite,” in [T.] C. Allbutt and H. D. Rolleston, eds., A System of Medicine by Many Writers, II, pt. 2 (London, 1907), 783-821, written with G. Lamb: “Observations on the Mechanism of the Transmission of Plague by Fleas.“in Journal of Hygiene, supp. 3 (1914), 423-439, written with Arthur W. Bacot: “Notes on the Etiology of Dysentery. 1. Types of Dysentery Bacilli Isolated at No. 3 Australian General Hospital, Cairo, March-August 1916, With Observations on the Variability of the Mannite-Fermenting Group,” in British Medical Journal (1917), I, 479-480, written with F. E. Williams: “Thermal Adjustment of Man and Animals to External Conditions. Croonian Lectures,” in Lancet (1930), 2 , 561-566, 617–620, 673–678: and “Curative Action of Nicotinic Acid on Pigs Suffering from the Effects of a Diet Consisting Largely of Maize,” in Biochemical Journal, 32 (1938), 10–12, written with H. Chick, T. F. Macrae, and A.J P. Martin.

II. Secondary Literature. The most comprehensive biographical sketch (Which includes a complete bibliography of Martin’s more than 100 papers) is Harriette Chick, “Charles James Martin,” in Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, 2 (1956), 173–208, Brief obituaries include S. P. Bedson, “Sir Charles James Martin, 1866–1955,” in Journal of General Microbiology, 14 (1956), 519–533, See also A[lbert] Calmette, Venoms, Venomous Animals and Antivenomous Serum–Therapeutics (London, 1908); and Harriette Chick, Margaret Hume, and Marjorie Macfarlane, War and Disease: A History of the Lister Institute (London, 1971).

W. Bruce Fye

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