Science for Health
27 September 2012
Mike Gaze died on 11 September 2012, aged 85. He was Head of NIMR's Division of Developmental Biology for 13 years, working on the development of the visual system in amphibians.
Raymond Michael (Mike) Gaze was born on 22 June 1927 in Essex and grew up in Scotland. He studied medicine in Edinburgh then went to Oxford University where he gained a degree in Physiology in 1951 and completed his PhD in 1954. The title of his thesis was The Thalamic Response to Sensory Afferent Stimulation. He returned to Scotland in 1955 to become a Lecturer in the Department of Physiology at Edinburgh University. In 1962 he received a Royal Society Research Fellowship, and in 1964 was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. In 1966 he was appointed as a Reader at the University.
In 1968, after being passed over for a Chair in Physiology at Edinburgh, Gaze responded positively to overtures from NIMR Director Peter Medawar to set up a new Division of Developmental Biology at the Institute. Medawar had been searching since 1966 for a suitable person to be head of the new Division, and the arrival of Gaze in July 1970 was seen as a great boon for the Institute. He was joined at NIMR by some of his team from Edinburgh, most notably Mike Keating. Gaze was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1972. His FRS citation stated:
Dr Gaze is distinguished for his work on mechanisms of regeneration in vertebrates. He was the first to study regeneration by neurophysiological methods, so making the process amenable to quantitative study. By combining this approach with the classical methods of experimental embryology, he has produced strong support for cell specificity as the guiding factor in regeneration.
In addition to over 100 research papers Mike Gaze published an influential research monograph: The formation of nerve connections. A consideration of neural specificity modulation and comparable phenomena, (1970). A review at the time praised the book:
[It] ... was eminently readable and while one occasionally finds the author biased in favour of his own theories the overall treatment is both penetrating and thorough. In fact one comes away with the distinct impression that this is the most stimulating and perhaps best account available on this difficult but important subject.
Jonathan Cooke joined the new Division in 1973 and worked closely with Mike Gaze.
Mike's overall field was neural development, particularly of the visual system. I worked on very early development but also had the privilege of collaborating over several years with him at the bench in neural experiments, assessing the visual map of a frog's environment in its brain - this was the acute physiological experiment on which his career was founded. I made surgical manipulations of the brain at early, pre-neural, stages which were expected to have rendered that map unusual in various ways. Mike derived great excitement from bench procedures at an age and stage when many scientists no longer do. I remember these experiments together, which were done strictly with Mike blinded as to the history of each individual animal and thus the result to be expected 'on hypothesis', as the most purely enjoyable scientific activity of my entire career.
The vividness of my own memories of being his junior colleague stem from my sharing with him a temperament whereby whatever eminence came his way, the degrees of satisfaction he derived remained strictly ordered in descending rank: scientific ideas and the primary activity of testing these, communicating the results of this to others, mentoring younger associates in all the foregoing and, decisively last, the organising of others' lives by managerial activities.
Jam Tata, who was head of the Laboratory of Developmental Biochemistry, remembers Mike Gaze and his important contribution to research at the Institute.
My initial interaction with Mike Gaze was motivated by a selfish reason. At that time there were no centralised animal facilities for amphibians at NIMR so that my laboratory had to fish for tadpoles in nearby ponds. This was not very satisfactory and made it difficult to determine accurately the developmental stage or endocrine status of the tadpoles. Some of the studies of the Gaze group on retino-tectal connection and function were carried out with the South African clawed frog Xenopus laevis - the Rolls-Royce of animals for developmental biologists. They had set up a small facility in their own laboratory for rearing and maintaining Xenopus larvae. Mike was most generous when I asked him to provide us with some of their surplus tadpoles while we were setting up a controlled facility in our own laboratory. His group also taught us all we needed to know about fertilising Xenopus eggs, rearing tadpoles, maintaining and feeding them as well as adult animals.
Mike Gaze was an able administrator, though he did not especially relish administration. For several years, from 1977 until he left, he was Deputy Director of NIMR. His advice and willingness to help out was appreciated by both Arnold Burgen and Dai Rees. In addition to his duties at NIMR Mike Gaze was editor of Journal of Embryology and Experimental Morphology (JEEM), a widely respected British journal of developmental biology (later to change its name to Development). He was at the helm of the journal at a time when molecular biology became increasingly important in developmental biology, offering novel ways of understanding development.
Mike was a keen hill-walker and missed the mountains of Scotland. Hence the idea of returning north remained a strong one. In 1983 he submitted a proposal to the Medical Research Council to move his group to Edinburgh University, to continue studies on the formation of nerve connections during development and regeneration. The MRC Board noted that “Dr Gaze’s work on the development of retino-tectal connections had been of a consistently high standard and had shown an increasing sophistication over the years” and approved the application. His group moved at the end of that year, becoming the MRC Neural Development and Regeneration Group. It remained at Edinburgh until Gaze’s retirement in 1992.
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