In the news: Roy Anderson

April 20, 2001

A pioneer in the epidemiology of infectious diseases could scarcely want for a more testing arena than the United Kingdom, the land of BSE, vCJD and now foot-and-mouth disease.

And in Roy Anderson, the nation clearly has a scientist capable of rising to the challenge. In the past month, the Imperial College professor has been able to model the progress of foot-and-mouth across the country, pose the necessary questions and communicate his findings - and their implications for policy - to the government. And all on a time-scale short enough to influence the handling of the evolving epidemic.

Yet 16 months ago, Anderson was at the centre of a destructive and poorly handled row that started with a slur on a colleague's reputation and ended with him resigning his chair at Oxford University, his governorship of the Wellcome Trust and his directorship of the trust's Centre for the Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases.

The single-minded approach that helped Anderson blaze a trail and create a world-class research centre appeared to have ultimately contributed to his downfall.

It is evident that the epidemiologist has put this all behind him. Anderson returned to Imperial College, where he had worked before moving to Oxford, and has since been building a team in the department of infectious disease epidemiology. His vision has not been dimmed by his experiences.

In the 1980s, with close friend and Oxford colleague Sir Robert May, Anderson modelled the spread of HIV and Aids in Africa and the UK; when Sir Robert was chief scientific adviser to the government in the 1990s, Anderson gained access to BSE statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to reveal the extent of the epidemic.

This time, the government turned immediately to Anderson for the advice that may help to beat the UK's latest outbreak.

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