Seeing the wood for the trees--the early papers of Denis Burkitt.J Ir Coll Physicians Surg 1996; 25(2):126-30JI
Denis Burkitt's was a remarkable career. A surgeon in the Colonial Medical Service in Uganda, his keen observation of the incidence of jaw tumours in children led him to describe a new form of lymphatic cancer. He confirmed, for the first time in man, that a cancer was caused by a virus and, most remarkable of all, he discovered a cure--low-dose chemotherapy. The condition was named after him--Burkitt's lymphoma--and with this came membership of a select group of eponymous Irishmen, including Graves, Colles and Corrigan. His ability to link the incidence of disease with geographical distribution brought him, first to question and then to champion Peter Cleave's theory that lack of dietary fibre contributed to many of the diseases common in western civilisation. In the process, he changed the dietary habits of the Western world. Yet Denis Burkitt's early career in Trinity College, Dublin was not auspicious for, as a Junior Freshman engineer in 1929, his tutor despaired of him, writing to his father 'Don't blame me if he gets stuck'. A happy irony then, that the College made him an Honorary Fellow half a century later.