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Obituary: Edward J Wood - full obituary

Emeritus Professor Ed Wood Photo courtesy of Graham Parslow

As, sadly, many colleagues will be aware, Emeritus Professor Ed Wood, former Professor of Biochemistry, died on 15 December 2008.

Professor Wood was awarded an Open Scholarship to read Biochemistry at The Queens College, Oxford and went on to complete a DPhil in the Nuffield Department of Clinical Biochemistry in Oxford. Having worked for a period as a research scientist at the Wellcome Research Laboratories in Beckenham on the biochemistry of antibodies (immunoglobulins), he was appointed in 1967 as a Lecturer in the Department of Biochemistry and Physiology at the University of Malta.

Professor Wood came to Leeds as Lecturer in Biochemistry in 1972. He became Senior Lecturer in 1978, was made Reader in 1994, and was promoted to a Chair in Biochemistry in 1998. He served as Head of the Department of Biochemistry from 1991 to 1996.

Throughout his time at Leeds, Ed Wood led a flourishing research group and published over 100 research papers. Initially, he concentrated on investigating respiratory proteins in a variety of invertebrate animals, and made important contributions to the knowledge of the structure and functions of these. This work was considerably facilitated by the laser light scattering technique developed by Ed Wood and his colleagues, in collaboration with the Royal Radar Research Establishment at Malvern, to overcome the considerable challenge of determining molecular weight. This pioneering technique went on to be widely adopted in research and industry in order to measure particle size and distribution. Ed Woods work on invertebrate respiratory proteins also resulted in the incidental but important discovery of a new class of glycoproteins.

In the early 1980s, Professor Wood turned his attention to the proteins of human skin and their role in skin disease and wound healing. This change of direction was prompted by a desire to undertake research relevant to human tissues and disease processes, and which offered the prospect of diagnostic or therapeutic application. Working in close collaboration with clinical colleagues, and with sections of the pharmaceutical industry, he published extensively and acquired a national and international reputation for his contributions to biomedical knowledge in skin biology, including his work in keratin biochemistry and specifically in the biochemistry of acne and psoriasis. This work provided the basis for evaluating different therapeutic regimes, and also of evaluating the effects of different pharmacological agents, such as retinoids. In order to be able to study human skin cells in detail, Ed Wood developed the technology for growing such cells in vitro; this not only made possible basic cell biology experiments but also provided the opportunity to produce reconstructed human skin for grafting onto patients with burns or leg ulcers. The development of a laboratory wound-healing model enabled observation of the behaviour of skin cells during the wound-healing process. Ed Woods expertise in dermatological research provided the stimulus for a very considerable amount of original work in this field at Leeds. He was a founding member of, and for many years a leading light in, the Interdisciplinary Skin Research Centre in the University. His international standing was shown in the invitations he received to chair sessions at major meetings of bodies such as the European Society for Dermatological Research and the International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (IUBMB). He also served as Editor-in-Chief of the journal Clinical Dermatology: Retinoids and other treatments, a role that continued well into his retirement.

Equally, if not more, striking were Professor Woods contributions to the philosophy and practice of biological education. His scholarship, dedication and innovative and imaginative ideas substantially enhanced the reputation already enjoyed by the Department in this field. An accomplished and enthusiastic speaker, Ed Wood was much in demand internationally as a key participant in, and organiser of, workshops, conferences and seminars on biochemical education, curriculum reform and the opportunities offered by new developments, information technology in particular. His extended and highly successful tenure as Chief Editor of the journal Biomedical Education (founded by a former head of department, Professor Peter Campbell) helped cement his reputation as an internationally recognised authority on biomedical education. He served on the editorial boards of a number of other journals, as a member of the Committee on Education of the IUBMB, and as the first Chairman of the Education Group of the Biochemical Society (London), founded in 1986. He was also a founder-member of the Societys BASC (Biochemistry across the School Curriculum) Group. In 1996, he became a member of the Educational Resources Task Group of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. He was an active member on the Executive Committee, and first Chair of the Education Committee, of the Federation of European Biochemical Societies (FEBS). Within the University, Ed Wood served as the first Dean for Learning and Teaching in Biological Sciences and also chaired the committee responsible for the first phase of a major revision of the medical curriculum.

True to his beliefs, Ed Wood co-wrote or edited a substantial number of textbooks, including Introducing Biochemistry (1982) a volume credited with attracting many sixth-formers to a biochemistry degree course; Multiple Choice Questions in Biochemistry (1984); Practical biochemistry for colleges (1989); Biochemistry for the medical sciences (1994); and Biology of Disease (2006). This was in addition to a series of influential journal articles, booklets and videotapes expounding his approach to biomedical education. He was one of an international team of four which, in 1989, produced Standards for the PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology for the International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and subsequently contributed to the IUBMB Standards for the Ph.D. degree in the Molecular Biosciences (2000). These treatises on the education and training of research biochemists had a significant international impact. Ed Woods other publications include the production, with a collaborator, of five volumes of Molecular and Cell Biochemistry (1991-92); these volumes were well-received and constitute a major achievement.

In 2000, Ed Wood established and became Director of the Learning and Teaching Support Network for Bioscience, later the Centre for Bioscience, Higher Education Academy, which became one of the most active and highly-regarded Centres in the HEA. He acted as a teaching quality assessor in the QAA quality assessment process that took place in all biochemistry teaching departments in Britain. He retired from his Chair in 2006 but many of his educational activities continued into his retirement and he was the 2008 Peter Campbell Lecturer of FEBS in recognition of his educational contributions to Biochemistry.

Professor Wood is survived by his wife, Helen, and his sons Ben and Dominic.

A lunch reception in memory of Professor Wood is to be held at the University at 12 30 pm on Tuesday, 3 February, 2009; this will take place on level 14 of the Marjorie and Arnold Ziff Building. Anyone wishing to be present on this occasion who has not yet indicated their intention of attending is invited to contact George Brassay in the Secretariat (Tel: 0113 334 4055 Email:

Published: 28 January 2009