Contribution to Neuropathology

Excerpt from Jennian Geddes, From Treponemes to Prisons: The Emergence of British Neuropathology. In F. Clifford Rose ed., Twentieth Century Neurology: The British Contribution (London, 2001).

‘At the London Hospital in Whitechapel’s Hugh Cairns had encouraged the young research pathologist Dorothy Russell to take up neuropathology in 1928. One of a small group of gifted women born in the 1890s who benefited from the new social opportunities available to them as a result of the First World War, Russell’s life has recently been described. Like Greenfield, she developed an extraordinary range of interests in the course of her career in neuropathology.

The majority of Russell’s papers, which cover almost every aspect of neuropathology, were classic descriptive studies, but she was also one of the first with John Bland to grow tumour cells in culture and study their properties. Her tissue culture experiments confirmed the previously disputed astrocytic nature of the pilocytic astrocytoma, and the arachnoidal origin of meningiomas. During the Second World War she was seconded to Oxford, where she worked with Hugh Cairns both at the Military Hospital for Head Injuries and at the Radcliffe Infirmary. This move provided her with an opportunity to do more experimental work on problems encountered by her neurosurgical colleagues in wartime. She investigated the effects of antiseptics on brain tissue, the way in which cerebral abscesses form and become encapsulated, the pathogenesis of post-traumatic cerebral cysts, and the effects on the brain of new materials used in cranioplasty.

As with Greenfield however, Dorothy Russell’s enduring legacy was a book, the first textbook of neuro-oncology, written with a younger colleague, Lucien Rubinstein. Pathology of Tumours of the Nervous System, first published in 1959, was a companion volume to Greenfield’s Neuropathology from the same publishers, and like Greenfield’s work was to be influential and highly regarded throughout the English-speaking world. The principal achievement of Russell and Rubinstein, whose work was based on a large collection of neurosurgical and autopsy material at the London Hospital, was to simplify Bailey and Cushing’s classification of brain tumours, particularly the gliomas, and to make the subject accessible for all those involved in the diagnosis and management of patients with brain tumours. After Russell’s retirement in 1960, Rubinstein moved to the United States, where he worked in tumour pathology, producing further editions of their book, the last in 1989.’

A portrait of 'The Lady'

Jennian F Geddes' article on the life of Dorothy Russell was published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine in 1997

Read article