Murray L. Barr

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Murray Barr

Dr. Murray L. Barr, O.C, M.D, FRSC, FRS, a world-renowned Canadian neuroanatomist, neurohistologist and medical researcher, passed away on May 4, 1995 in his 87th year. Dr. Barr was born in June 20, 1908 in Belmont, Ontario, Canada, where he grew up and received his early education. His higher education was received at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario (ON). He received a Bachelor of Arts (B.A) in 1930 and a M.D. in 1933. During his internship in Pennsylvania, he met Ruth, a nurse, who he married after his return to London. He practiced family medicine for 2 years and then decided he would rather be a medical researcher, Murray and Ruth have four children, 3 boys and a girl. The oldest boy, Hugh, became a neurosurgeon and the next one, Robert, became a hematologist. The third boy became a Home Building Contractor and the girl became a Librarian.

Dr. Barr’s ambition was to specialize in clinical neurology, so he accepted an appointment in 1936 in the Anatomy Department in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Western Ontario in London. He studied and taught neurocytology and neuroanatomy. He joined the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps reserve in 1936, and received a Master of Science degree (M.SC.) in 1938. When World War 2 started, he joined the Medical Branch of the Royal Canadian Air Force. He was released from the service at the end of the war in 1945, and returned to the anatomy department at the University of Western Ontario. He resumed his teaching of neuroanatomy and research in neurocytology. He was attempting to analyze the neuronal basis of prolonged fatigue, which was a major concern when he was a Medical Officer in the Air Force.

Bertram and Barr

In 1947, Ewart G. (“Mike”) Bertram, who had just received a Bachelor of Science (B. Sc. in Biology), was accepted by Barr as a postgraduate student. His project was to produce prolonged electrical stimulation of the hypoglossal nerves of cats to deplete the Nissl material of motor neurons. Using a compound microscope, he observed that a nucleolar satellite, a small dot (now called the sex chromatin, A and C) adjacent to the nucleus moved away from the nucleus of the neuron in some sections. He also observed that the neurons of some cats did not have a nucleolar satellite (B). On careful checking his records, Bertram found that all these cats were males. After considerable thought as to what this body may be, Barr, Bertram and Moore concluded that the nucleolar satellite may represent the second X chromosome of female cats. Bertram received his Master of Science (M.Sc.) in 1950, and moved to Buffalo, New York to do research in neuroanatomy for a Ph.D.

A. Arrow points to sex
chromatin in the
nucleus of a female cat.
B. Cell from a male cat;
no sex chromatin present.
C. Sex chromatin in two
cells from a female.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keith L. Moore was accepted by Barr as a postgraduate student in May, 1950. His project was to do research on many cells of humans and a wide range of animals. He observed that all cells of most human females exhibited the nucleolar satellite, now called the sex chromatin (Barr body) in motor neurons and many other cells. Fourteen of the mammalian females (especially carnivorous animals) also exhibited the sex chromatin. Cows, rats, rabbits and other animals did not exhibit the sex chromatin. Moore developed a buccal smear test which allowed large scale surveys of the population. This test made it a potentially valuable investigation in the study of human intersex and related disorders, such as the Klinefelter syndrome, a chromosomal anomaly with a chromosome count of 47, XXY.

Dr. Barr, in collaboration with Dr. David Carr, turned his attention to the clinical aspects of the sex chromatin, and examined the relationship between the sex chromatin and disorders such as the Turner syndrome, a chromosomal with a chromosomal count of 45, X. Dr. Barr also investigated cytogenetic precursors of mental deficiency. He received fellowships of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, the American College of Physicians, and the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. He was also a Fellow of the Royal Society (London, England), and the Royal Society of Canada. He received Honorary Doctor of Law Degrees from five Canadian Universities, Honorary Doctor of Science from the University of Western Ontario, and Honorary Doctor of Medicine from the University of Basel, Switzerland. He was a member of over 15 scientific and medical societies and served on AAA's Executive Committee from 1965-1969.

In 1967, Barr received the highest award of the Canadian Medical Association, the F.N.G. Starr Award, and in the following year, he received the Officer of the Order of Canada from the Governor General of Canada. This is the most prestigious honor a Canadian Citizen can receive. His many other awards include: the J.C.B. Grant Distinguished Scientist Award; the Maurice Goldblatt Cytology Award (Bertram also received this award); the Papanicolaou Award; the Award of Merit of the Gairdner Foundation; the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation Award for his contributions to the understanding of the causes of mental deficiency (the medal was given to him by President John Kennedy) ; the Medal of the American College of Physicians, and the Flavelle Medal of the Royal Society of Canada. In 1998, he was posthumously inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame. He published 110 scientific papers and was the author/coauthor of four books.

Dr. Barr retired from the Chairmanship of the Department of Anatomy at the University of Western Ontario in 1967; he remained as Professor until 1973. Thereafter, as Professor Emeritus, he lectured on a part-time basis until 1979.

Written by Keith L. Moore, Professor Emeritus, Division of Anatomy, Department of Surgery, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Canada.

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