UCL Faculty of Life Sciences


Tribute to Professor David Brown

22 November 2023

It is with great sadness that we relay the news of David Brown's (FIBiol, FRS) passing on Saturday 21st October.

Professor David Brown

David was Head of the Pharmacology Department at UCL for 15 years (1987-2002, holding the Astor Chair) having previously been Head of the Pharmacology Department (1979-1987, holding the Wellcome Chair) at the School of Pharmacy. He also held visiting professorships at the Universities of Chicago, Iowa, Texas and Kanazawa and a prestigious Fogarty Fellowship at the NIH. David graduated from UCL in 1956 with a BSc degree in Chemistry, Zoology and Physiology, followed by Special Physiology (1957), and subsequently completed his PhD in pharmacology with Peter Quilliam at St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical College.

David is best known for his discovery with Paul Adams of the M current (now identified as KCNQ potassium channels). This is a voltage- and time-dependent non-inactivating K+ current that limits neuronal excitability and is inhibited by activation of cholinergic muscarinic receptors (thus called ‘M-current’).  This work was part of the background that led to the development of retigabine, a 'first in class' antiepileptic drug that acted to enhance the M-current.  David was one of the first investigators to make substantive use of electrophysiological methods, particularly the single electrode voltage clamp method, to study drug action on single nerve cells and acute brain slices.

David was an Honorary Fellow of The British Pharmacological Society.  He was an Honorary Member and served a term as International Secretary of The Physiological Society and he had a tireless commitment to international collaboration and scientific exchange. David was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1990 and subsequently became Emeritus Professor and Principal Research Fellow, University College London (2002-2021). The family are planning a private funeral.

Professor Trevor Smart (UCL Biosciences) said: "David was a unique character who in hindsight was way ahead of his time. He read widely and was one of very few who could span and link molecular studies with behaviour. As a PhD student, he gave me free rein in my studies and unlike now with formalised PhD training schedules, I spent about 20 min with him as a 1:1 over three years. But he was always available for discussion and advice and we all learnt so much by being in his lab. He was generous with his time. At first hand I saw how he discovered the M current by remarkable comparison to heart muscle membrane currents; I also imbibed his analysis techniques for relaxation currents during the early voltage clamp days of single neurons as he dissected the properties of the M current. David's lab was full of optimism and drive - a very exciting place to learn. I credit him with laying the foundation stones for my future academic career and also as a future Head of Department at the School of Pharmacy, and subsequently at UCL. There is no doubt he was one of a kind and I owe him so much”.

Professor Mala Shah (UCL School of Pharmacy) said: ‘David was a very kind, pragmatic person who was a true inspiration to many. He was very approachable and was a great mentor to me and many others that had worked with him in his lab. Whilst he was recognised as an expert on the ‘M-current’ and potassium channels, his scientific interests spanned wider than this. He was therefore very widely known in the international scientific community and will be missed by many!”

Professor Ahad Rahim (UCL School of Pharmacy) said: "Professor Brown FRS was an outstanding scientist who has made huge contributions to Pharmacology. His research was recognised internationally with visiting professorships held at US and Japanese institutions. The UCL School of Pharmacy is honoured to list Professor Brown as a former Head of Pharmacology Department and he will always be remembered here as one of our most eminent alumni who continued to collaborate with colleagues until his final days."

Our thoughts are with David's loved ones. 

 If you would like to add your memories of David, please visit: https://david-brown10.muchloved.com