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James Harrison Renwick, 1926-1994.

Glasgow University Archives. Reference code: GB 0248 UGC155

Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of James Harrison Renwick by T.E. Powell and P. Harper.

Outline of career

James Harrison Renwick was educated at Sedburgh School winning a Scholarship to the University of St Andrews in 1943. He studied medicine, graduating M.B., Ch.B. in 1948. After hospital appointments, 1948 to 1951, Renwick did his national service in the Royal Army Medical Corps 1951-1953. In 1953 Renwick was awarded a Medical Research Council grant to train in Human Genetics. He undertook this work in the Galton Laboratory of University College London, studying under L.S. Penrose and J.B.S. Haldane (Ph.D. 1956). Renwick spent a period 1958-1959 working under V.A. McKusick at the Johns Hopkins Hospital Department of Human Genetics. On his return to the UK in 1959 he took up a post as Research Fellow in Guido Pontecorvo's Department of Genetics at Glasgow University. He was appointed Senior Lecturer in 1960, Reader in 1966 and Titular Professor in 1967. In 1968 Renwick moved to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine as Reader in Human Genetics. In 1978 he was appointed Professor of Human Genetics and Teratology. He retired in 1991.

Renwick made a fundamental contribution to modern genetics, in particular to the development of human gene mapping that paved the way for the Human Genome Project. Working at the Galton Laboratory with L.S. Penrose, then at the University of Glasgow, and latterly at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, to the early 1970s, he pioneered the use of genetic markers to map disease genes on human chromosomes, seeing this field develop from its infancy to a major international scientific endeavour. His Independent obituarist notes that, His work linking the ABO blood groups and the nail-patella syndrome was seminal and is still cited as a classic in human linkage analysis and he was behind the first generalised computer program for calculating LODs (Logarithm of Odds) for large human pedigrees. He also was involved in transatlantic collaboration on gene mapping with V.A. McKusick, making visits to Johns Hopkins as a consultant on the application of computer techniques to genetical linkage.

In 1972 he radically changed direction, following what he described as a unilateral termination of computer facilities at Johns Hopkins and his ejection from the field. The subsequent years at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine were mainly spent on analysis of causative factors in human malformations, studying in particular birth defects with an early study on the possible relation between toxins in potatoes and anencephaly and spina bifida.

Renwick was active in a number of genetical societies, including the Genetics Society, which he served as Honorary Treasurer 1960-1965 and auditor 1965-1972. He was a founder of the Developmental Pathology Society, serving as its President.

Description of collection

Dates of creation of material: 1940s-1994, bulk 1950s-1970s. Extent: 50 boxes.

Biographical material is slight. It includes obituaries, curricula vitae and lists of publications. Records of Renwick's research form the largest component of the archive. The research material presented here records Renwick's fundamental contribution to gene mapping research, his key contribution to science and medicine carried out at the Galton Laboratory, University of Glasgow and Johns Hopkins, and at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Renwick was a meticulous record-keeper and the material forms a very complete record, bringing together pedigree charts and associated family information on patients from all over the UK, the US and elsewhere, offprints frequently annotated by Renwick, covering letters from doctors, correspondence with colleagues, and associated medical, laboratory and computing data, filed by project. The bulk of the research material is the contents of Renwick's box files of data on family pedigrees. There are three distinct sequences. The first, and largest, is organised by disease, with the diseases coded in an alphabetical sequence, beginning with AA (Congenital analgesia). The second sequence is organised by chromosomal abnormality, and the third sequence is of non-disease pedigrees. There are also sequences of material arranged under the headings Linkages and Mapping, material on coding methodology, and on computing analysis and procedures - this including work on the development of computer programs. A number of other research collaborators are represented in the papers, including S.D. Lawler, M.M. Izatt and E.B. Robson. Other significant correspondents in the field include C.A. Clarke, M.A. Ferguson-Smith, V.A. McKusick, L.S. Penrose and C.A.B. Smith. In some cases an ongoing research interest in an individual condition, for example, cataracts, is documented alongside the earlier data from the 1960s.

Publications material includes drafts for some of Renwick's published papers 1961-1990, though the majority of the material dates from the early 1970s. Articles documented range from Probable linkage between a coingenital cataract locus and the Duffy blood group locus, with S.D. Lawler, Ann. Hum. Genet. vol 27 (1963) to On avoiding statistical bias in linkage-based counselling, Ann. Hum. Genet. vol 54 (1990). There are some of the many book reviews by Renwick 1955-1980 and editorial correspondence. Further drafts of Renwickÿs publications are to be found with the research material to which they relate. Lectures and conferences material is very slight and represents only a fraction of Renwick's output in these areas. There is some record of Renwick's involvement with fourteen UK, overseas and international societies and organisations. The most fully documented are the Developmental Pathology Society 1971-1991 and the Genetics Society 1954-1991.

Renwick's correspondence files were not extensive. He kept the bulk of his scientific correspondence with the research to which it related. Apart from this there are no extended exchanges of letters with the exception of the correspondence with L.R. Weitkamp. Other correspondents represented in his correspondence files by more than the individual letter include E.A. Murphy, Ruth Sanger and C.A.B. Smith.

Papers relating to Renwickÿs service as secretary of the Senior Common Room and the Dining Club of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have been placed in the Archives of the LSHTM.