William Ian McDonald, MD, a British neurologist and professor renowned for his pioneering work on multiple sclerosis, died on Dec. 13, 2006, in London, at the age of 73.
Alan Thompson, MD, clinical director of the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, called Dr. McDonald an inspirational mentor and friend, and one of the greatest champions in the MS world.
“While his legacy to people affected by MS lives on, his death leaves us all with a huge sense of personal loss and a void which is impossible to fill,” he told Neurology Today.
A native New Zealander, Dr. McDonald's research led to radical breakthroughs in MS understanding and treatment. In the 1960s, Dr. McDonald was the first to demonstrate that demyelination resulted in slowed conduction velocity, which has been the foundation of further research in this area. He contributed to the development of the visual evoked response and the understanding that delays in pattern-evoked responses provide major information about optic neuritis in MS. It has since become a standard part of the diagnostic investigation of MS.
Dr. McDonald is also closely identified with the cardinal contribution of MRI to MS. In the early 1980s, he realized that MRI could demonstrate the lesions of MS in its eventual establishment as the best test for supporting MS diagnosis.
Throughout his professional career, Dr. McDonald served as president of the European Neurological Society, president of the Association of British Neurologists, and editor of Brain. He assisted the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation (MSIF) and chaired the MSIF International Medical Advisory Board.
In an obituary published in The Independent, a UK newspaper, Alastair Compston, PhD, MBBS, head of the department of clinical neurosciences at the School of Clinical Medicine at the University of Cambridge, noted that in his retirement, Dr. McDonald served as Harveian Libriarian at the Royal College of Physicians of London, and that he was an avid connoisseur of the arts.
Finally, Dr. Compston said, Dr. McDonald delivered numerous lectures globally, and came to be remembered as an ambassador for all that is most valued in British neurology.