Sheila Rodwell, 1947-2009

August 13, 2009

Sheila Rodwell, a leading authority on the links between nutrition and disease, has died.

Born in St Albans on 7 March 1947 and educated at Loughborough High School, she graduated as a dietitian from what is now King's College London.

She worked in hospitals from 1969 to 1974 and, under the name of Sheila Bingham, wrote a Dictionary of Nutrition (1977), before becoming a research officer at the Medical Research Council.

She remained with the MRC, largely in Cambridge - where she eventually became an honorary professor of nutritional epidemiology and life fellow of Clare Hall - for the rest of her career.

Co-author of more than 450 publications, Professor Rodwell realised that studies into the connections between diet and diseases such as cancer were hampered by unreliable data based on self-reporting. She therefore pioneered methods of measuring objective biomarkers such as urinary sugar levels in large populations.

Such techniques enabled her to produce new insights into the role of fat as a risk factor for breast cancer, links between heavy consumption of red meat and bowel cancer and the protective effect of eating fibre.

She also served as an expert on what became the Food Standards Agency Scientific Advisory Committee for Nutrition.

After a number of different roles within the MRC, Professor Rodwell was appointed deputy director, and then head of the diet and cancer group, at the Dunn Human Nutrition Unit.

In 2006, she became head of the new MRC Centre for Nutritional Epidemiology in Cancer Prevention and Survival. "There is evidence that nutrition plays a very important role in causing or preventing certain cancers," she said at the time.

"New funding will allow us to give much-needed advice to patients and the general public about what they can do to avoid cancer and improve the chances of survival."

Panagiota Mitrou, who studied for a PhD with Professor Rodwell and now works as a science programme manager at the World Cancer Research Fund, remembers "a great researcher who also strongly believed in making a difference to public health".

"As a mentor and colleague, she always respected your opinion and wanted to develop you to your highest potential. She taught everybody to have a methodical and modest approach. She never used big words without facts and supporting evidence," Dr Mitrou said.

Professor Rodwell was recently appointed OBE for services to healthcare, but died of cancer a few days later, on 16 June. She is survived by her second husband, Simon Rodwell.

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