IN MEMORIAM – IAIN D WILKINSON (1964-2020)
Professor Iain D Wilkinson was born on the 7th of July 1964 in Dorset and moved to Cornwall when he was 9. He was the son of John Wilkinson, who trained in hotel management, and later became a camp site operator, and his wife Joyce (nee Blythman), originally a librarian. He and his sister, Fiona, a Mathematics teacher, enjoyed growing up by the sea, and working on the camp site during school holidays.
He was born with inherited retinoblastoma and received external beam radiotherapy at a young age. This resulted in a number of secondary cancers which he faced for the rest of his life. In spite of significant visual impairment, Iain excelled at school – attending Nether Compton and Gorran Primaries, Penrice School and St Austell Sixth Form College.
At Sixth Form College he excelled in Physics and Maths. He was a member of the local Sea Scout group (of which his father was one of the leaders), and enjoyed sailing with the family and friends.
He was very intelligent and even from a young age, was determined not to let his physical disabilities define him – for example choosing to sit at the back of his class and diligently copying the notes of other students rather than accept allowances to accommodate his disabilities. Many of whom have remained lifelong friends.
After secondary school in St Austell, Iain obtained a BSc with Honours in Physics at the University of Lancaster in 1985. He subsequently completed his Masters in Radiation Physics at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical College, University of London in 1986.
He married Ruth [nee, Donohoe] in 1995 and obtained the prestigious SERC Studentship leading to a PhD in 1992 on ‘The effects of eddy currents in magnetic resonance imaging’ at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School, University of London. Iain was appointed Research Physicist in Magnetic Resonance at the Department of Medical Physics and Radiology, Addenbrooke’s Hospital Cambridge (August 1988-July 1991) working with Adrian Dixon and Care Sims. Here he developed test-objects and methods for the assessment of imaging and spectroscopy on a multi-frequency, rampable, PICKER whole-body magnet-system, for the Department of Health. These various projects provided his first foray into multidisciplinary clinical research which will remain a core feature of his subsequent research career. In August 1991, he was appointed Principal Physicist in Magnetic Resonance the Middlesex Hospital and Senior Lecturer at the Department of Medical Physics and Bio-engineering at University College London, a post he held to October 1997. During this time, working with colleages such as Martyn Paley and Margaret Hall-Craggs, he made seminal discoveries investigating the neurological sequelae to HIV infection using MR spectroscopy and quantitative imaging. The techniques he helped pioneer and implement aided patient care and provided fundamental knowledge regarding what was, at that time, a new and terrifying pandemic. Under his stewardship, the Middlesex Hospital MR unit became recognised as one of the leading international centres of excellence for neuroimaging in HIV/AIDS.
On moving to Sheffield in 1997 they first set up home in Dore. Two years later their son Luke was born and they moved out to Grindleford, Derbyshire where he would spend the rest of his days.
He began as Senior Lecturer in MR Physics in 1997 in the Academic Unit of Radiology working with Paul Griffiths at the University of Sheffield and was appointed Professor in MR Physics in 2009. Iain developed the adult neuroimaging theme of research developing functional MRI and several collaborations and applications of clinical neuroimaging research. He went on to lead Adult Neuroimaging research in the Medical School and the Advanced Imaging Lead for the Sheffield NIHR Biomedical Research Centre, where he was a highly respected colleague, student supervisor and teacher. He became a world authority in neuroimaging techniques in particular magnetic resonance vascular imaging (arterial spin labelling), spectroscopy (phosphorus and proton spectral editing techniques). This enhanced his collaboration with various disciplines to investigate the pathophysiological mechanisms in different diseases. He worked closely with numerous clinicians and basic scientists including diabetologists, neurologists and neuroscientists on many successful research projects. He was a well-liked and respected person and a very skilled MR Physicist.
Iain was well loved and respected in the British and International MRI research communities. MR physicists across the globe will recall the distinctive Wilko blue jacket at international ISMRM scientific meetings and many convivial late night sessions with the British Chapter. Despite his medical issues Iain was very adventurous, Jim Wild recalls canoeing with him in Florida everglades with alligators swimming around and the tide going out and Iain being dead set on going out further to sea! The British Chapter of ISMRM was also very happy to have Iain give the celebratory toast at the 25th Anniversary meeting in Sheffield last September amongst old friends.
There is no doubt that Iain has made substantial contributions to research in various medical disciplines with over 200 publications and greater than 8000 citations that have provided novel insights into aetiology, pathogenesis and clinical management of major diseases afflicting mankind – diabetes, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, dementia, multiple sclerosis and cerebrovascular disease.
In particular, he was a great collaborator in our diabetes unit. For over two and a half decades, he contributed to the design and implementation of all our MR imaging studies which has led to seminal discoveries in the field of diabetic neuropathy. He possessed ebullient enthusiasm and loved sharing his knowledge – jointly supervised/mentored more than 20 PhDs/MDs and graduate students. Many of his students have gone on to pursue successful, independent careers in clinical academia and consultants with leadership roles in the NHS.
Over the past two years, Iain faced many health difficulties and he retired in 2019. He continued contact with work and colleagues as Emeritus Professor of MR Physics. He loved music of many varieties; classical, jazz, Cornish choirs. His taste was fantastically eclectic yet clearly defined. Despite his visual and hearing limitations he was an accomplished pianist, having learnt piano and violin as a child. He later went on to play tymphs in an orchestra. He could listen to a tune and then just pick it up on the piano with ease.
A keen traveller, Iain spent some time in retirement ticking off many destinations on his bucket list including Russia, Tanzania, California and Mauritius.
On a personal level, Iain was an approachable, kind, gentle, humble, extremely helpful and intelligent human being. He loved the outdoors – would drag anyone along on his favourite walks in the Peak District regardless of the weather and his positive outlook in life rubbed off on those fortunate enough to know him. His cheeky smile and sense of humour would put anyone at ease.
His love for life, courage, stoicism and desire to support his family made him bounce back from each craniotomy. He truly was an extraordinary and inspirational human being. He died peacefully in his own home, in the presence of his family on the 26th of October 2020.
Although no longer with us, the legacy of his work, the knowledge he has imparted and memories of his friendship and generosity will continue to inspire us and thrive for many years to come.
Iain will be fondly remembered and sadly missed. Fair well my friend.
Iain’s funeral will be held at St Helens Church in Grindleford, at 11/11/20, 14:00. Due to COVID-19 restrictions attendance is limited to invitation. No flowers please, but donations can be made to the childhood eye cancer trust: https://chect.org.uk/