Michael Oliver led the way in cardiac research

Discovery: Michael Oliver linked high cholesterol and heart disease. Picture: TSPL
Discovery: Michael Oliver linked high cholesterol and heart disease. Picture: TSPL
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Professor Emeritus Michael Oliver CBE FRCP, FRSE, MD has died, aged 89.

Michael Oliver was one of the most eminent cardiovascular researchers of his era. Determined to be a cardiologist at the University of Edinburgh, he began a lifelong inquiry into the causes of coronary heart disease in the 1950s. He gained a first in biochemistry and physiology as an undergraduate.

Rather than spending time in national service he spent two years in general practice in Leith, where he really “learnt” to be a doctor.

Born in Aberystwyth, educated at Marlborough and brought up in Hampshire to an old English family in the country he found it difficult to adjust to urban life in Edinburgh. After leaving general practice he soon obtained a junior fellowship in the Departments of Biochemistry and Medicine at Edinburgh University. He was among the first to report in 1954 that raised cholesterol and coronary heart disease were associated. This pioneering work led to a gold medal MD thesis and international recognition.

He was an influential leader in trials analysing effects of lowering cholesterol levels. In the 1970s he was awarded an honorary MD by the Karolinska University, Stockholm as well as an honorary MD from the University of Bologna in 1985.

In 1964 he established the first intensive coronary care unit in Europe at Edinburgh Royal infirmary and in 1974 was awarded the Duke of Edinburgh Chair of Cardiology in 1976. His greatest legacy was the foundation of the academic department of cardiovascular medicine in Edinburgh which today is arguably the UK’s most prominent and influential clinical research department into heart disease.

Michael Oliver was a popular lecturer and encouraging and supportive of young medical scientists. He was the author of more than 400 scientific papers between 1953 and 2015. He was awarded a CBE in 1985 and FRSE in 1988. He was president of the Royal College of Physicians, where his portrait hangs, between 1986 and 1989.

He retired from Edinburgh University in 1989 and moved to London as director of the Wynn Institute for Metabolic Research and joined the National Heart and Lung Institute. He never really retired and retained his enthusiasm for cardiac research. In 2015, The Michael Oliver Theatre was named by Glasgow University.

He had three sons and a daughter by his first marriage to Margaret Abbey. In 1985 he married Helen Daniel, who predeceased him.

In his “retirement” he became very knowledgeable in Italian Renaissance art and lived in Umbria happily for 30 years. He had a very close relationship with his five grandchildren and frequently remarked his two surviving sons were his best friends.

He died on June 7, 2015 in Sienna, Italy.