William Frankland (immunologist)

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Alfred William Frankland (born 19 March 1912) is a British immunologist whose achievements include the popularisation of the pollen count as a piece of weather-related information to the British public and the prediction of increased levels of allergy to penicillin. The British Society of Allergies and Clinical Immunology (BSACI) has established an award in his honour. He turned 100 in March 2012.[1]

Military service[edit]

Frankland spent six years in the British Army during the Second World War, three and a half of which were spent as a Prisoner of War in Singapore, where he recalls he was struck by how desensitised the Japanese prison guards were to native insect bites, later recalling that “Medically, as a Prisoner of War, we saw conditions which are now unknown”.[2]

Post-war academic career[edit]

In 1946, Frankland began full-time work in the Allergy Department of St Mary's Hospital, London.[2] Frankland and his colleagues undertook a series of trials which proved that antihistamine tablets neither helped nor increased pollen asthma. One source[2] reports that in the course of this work, between 25,000 and 30,000 patients injected themselves with pollen on a daily basis with no recorded deaths.

Hygiene theory[edit]

Frankland believed that the rise in allergies can be linked to our increased cleanliness and the levels of hygiene in modern life; the so-called Hygiene Theory. He has said that "We don't set off our immune system early on, we are too clean. In the former East Germany for instance, with very poor work and housing conditions, people were less allergic".[2]

Pollen count[edit]

Frankland was keen to provide his London patients with information about the daily variations of pollens and the date of onset or termination of pollination. On Frankland's recommendation, St. Mary's employed a full-time botanist, supplementing the pollen counts that were already being measured in Cardiff, Wales. Weekly London pollen counts were sent to members of the British Allergy Society from 1953 and the news media on a daily basis from 1963.


He was also a supporter of the idea of desentisation, a technique which aims to reduce the level of immune response to allergens by repeated doses of low amounts of the substance to which the patient is allergic. As part of work connected with this belief, and with the help of the London Tropical School of Medicine, which provided insects which Frankland could be sure he had never been bitten by before, Frankland experimented on himself with the blood-sucking insect Rhodnuis prolixus, which "caused me, after its eighth meal at weekly intervals, severe anaphylaxis". According to Dr. Frankland, results from this research showed for how many years injections would need to be given as part of a course of desensitisation; this varies from person to person but on average results were shown in pollen immunotheraphy after three years and in venom after five years.[2]

Collaboration with Alexander Fleming[edit]

During the 1950s, Frankland served as registrar to Alexander Fleming in the development of penicillin. Their relationship was cordial, with Frankland saying that: "[Fleming] was a wonderful man and I liked his teaching and admired him very much".[3] During this period, the two had a daily meeting, but due to Fleming's lack of interest in clinical medicine, Frankland has said that he cannot recall a patient ever being discussed during any of the meetings.

Later, Frankland wrote a chapter on penicillin for a book edited by Fleming, which he managed to do in a week. Although largely content with the initial draft, Fleming is reported to have changed Frankland's closing comment that 'due to increased use, allergy to penicillin is expected to increase' with 'due to increased purity [of production], allergy to penicillin is likely to decrease.' Frankland has since acknowledged that Fleming may have been 'partly right' because the quality of penicillin production at the time was poor.


In 1954, Frankland published an article in the UK medical journal The Lancet entitled “Prophylaxis of summer Hay-fever and Asthma”.[2]

Involvement with professional associations[edit]

British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology[edit]

In 1948, Frankland convened the preliminary meeting of the British Association of Allergists. The two speakers included Sir Henry Dale, pharmacologist and Chairman of the Board at the Wellcome Trust, and Dr. John Freeman.[2] In 1962 the Association became the British Allergy Society with Frankland as President between 1963 and 1966. Clinical Immunology was incorporated into the Society's title in 1973, to give it its current title. Frankland is reported to maintain a 'keen' interest in the Society.[2]

European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI)[edit]

Frankland is a former President of the Academy, which was established in 1956 in Florence. Since then it is reported to have organised "More than fifteen European triennial congresses and twenty five annual meetings have been held in various European cities since 1956, all providing substantial progress in knowledge and an opportunity for exchanging ideas and friendship".[2]

In 2006, Frankland was awarded the Clemens von Pirquet Medal for Outstanding Contributions in Clinical Research.

International Association of Aerobiology[edit]

Frankland is a founder member (in 1970) and President.[2]

Involvement with charitable organisations[edit]

Anaphylaxis Campaign[edit]

Frankland is President of the Anaphylaxis Campaign, the UK charity for severe allergy issues.[2]

Associated academic awards[edit]

The William Frankland Award for Outstanding Services in the field of Clinical Allergy is awarded each year at the annual meeting of the BSACI.[2]

Appearance as expert witness[edit]

In February 2012, Frankland appeared as an expert witness in a British court. The accused had claimed that a vehicle crash in which he was involved was caused by his losing control following a bee sting. Although Frankland agreed with the defence that such a scenario was possible, he gave an opinion that delayed-response reactions to bee stings only occurred after there had been initial symptoms following the sting. In this case there had not been such symptoms, and the accused was found guilty.[4]


  1. ^ Hanlon, Michael (2012-03-20). "Dr Bill Frankland: 'I got a call to treat Saddam for an allergy’". The Daily Telegraph (Telegraph Media Group). Retrieved 2012-03-20. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l The Anaphlaxis Campaign. "A Life in Allergy". Retrieved 22 July 2012. 
  3. ^ Juliet Eysenck (29 November 2010). "Film celebrates grandfather of immunology". Westminster Chronicle. Retrieved 30 December 2011. 
  4. ^ "World's oldest expert witness William Frankland". The Australian. 28 February 2012. Retrieved 13 January 2013.