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Joshua Harold Burn
Born (1892-03-06)6 March 1892
Barnard Castle
Died 13 July 1981(1981-07-13) (aged 89)
Nationality English
Citizenship British
Awards Fellow of the Royal Society[1]

Joshua Harold Burn FRS[1] (6 March 1892 – 13 July 1981) was an English pharmacologist and Emeritus Professor of Pharmacology at Oxford University.[2]

Burn worked on the internal control of the body by the auto(matic)nomic nervous system, carrying out seminal work on the release of noradrenaline from these nerves and introducing the controversial Burn-Rand hypothesis.[3]

The Nobel Laureate John Vane claimed "If anyone can be said to have moulded the subject of pharmacology around the world, it is he".[4]


Burn was born in Barnard Castle, County Durham, England.[5] He was educated at Barnard Castle School.[5] Burn entered Emmanuel College at the University of Cambridge in 1909 where he read the Natural Sciences Tripos.[5] He specialised in physiology for Part II.[6] His tutor was Frederick Gowland Hopkins. After receiving his BA he was awarded a research grant by Emmanuel College and a Michael Foster Studentship by the University. The next 18 months were spent in research with Joseph Barcroft.[7] Other figures in physiology at Cambridge at the time were Keith Lucas and the Nobel Laureates Archibald Hill and Edgar Adrian. In January 1914 Burn went to work for Henry Hallett Dale in London.

In October 1914 Burn enlisted in the army as a Signals Officer with the rank of corporal. By the end of 1917 he was required to return to England to finish his medical training. From 1920 to 1926 he worked with Henry Dale at the National Institute for Medical Research in Hampstead. His work involved the standardisation of medicines. In 1926 he became director of the Pharmacological Laboratories at the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, again involved in the standardisation of medicines. Between 1926 and 1937 Burn had 44 co-workers, of which 30 came from overseas.[8] From 1933 he worked closely with Edith Bülbring.[8] In 1931 he was a founder member of the British Pharmacological Society and he was a member of the commission that produced the reforming British Pharmacopoeia in 1932.[8] In 1933 he was appointed Dean of The School of Pharmacy, University of London.

From 1937 to 1959 Burn held the chair of Pharmacology at the University of Oxford.[9] Over the years he had 162 academic staff, including John Robert Vane (1927–2004), one of three winners of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1982.

Burn was an honorary Doctor of Yale University, the University of Mainz and the University of Bradford. He was an honorary member of the British Pharmacological Society, the German Pharmacological Society and the Czechoslovakian Medical Society of Jan Evangelista Purkyně and a member of the Leopoldina and a Fellow of the Royal Society (elected 1942) .[1] In 1967 he received the Schmiedeberg-badge of the German Pharmacological Society and in 1979 the Wellcome Gold Medal of the British Pharmacological Society.


Methods of Biological Assay, 1928; Recent Advances in Materia Medica, 1931; Biological Standardization, 1937; Background of Therapeutics, 1948; Lecture Notes on Pharmacology, 1948; Practical Pharmacology, 1952; Functions of Autonomic Transmitters, 1956; The Principles of Therapeutics, 1957; Drugs, Medicines and Man, 1962; The Autonomic Nervous System, 1963; Our most interesting Diseases, 1964; A Defence of John Balliol, 1970


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Bulbring, E.; Walker, J. M. (1984). "Joshua Harold Burn. 6 March 1892 – 13 July 1981". pp. 44. Digital object identifier:10.1098/rsbm.1984.0002. JSTOR 769820. PMID 11616006. 
  2. "BURN, Joshua Harold", Who Was Who, A & C Black, 1920–2008; online edn, Oxford University Press, Dec 2007 accessed 21 March 2012
  3. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-10-29. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  4. Physiology or medicine: 1981–1990, Volume 6 By Tore Frängsmyr, Jan E. Lindsten, p142
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Joshua Harold Burn. 6 March 1892 – 13 July 1981 Edith Bülbring and J. M. Walker Page 47 of 44–89
  6. "Archived copy". 
  7. Joshua Harold Burn. 6 March 1892 – 13 July 1981 Edith Bülbring and J. M. Walker Page 48 of 44–89
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Joshua Harold Burn. 6 March 1892 – 13 July 1981 Edith Bülbring and J. M. Walker Page 52 of 44–89
  9. Joshua Harold Burn. 6 March 1892 – 13 July 1981 Edith Bülbring and J. M. Walker Page 53 of 44–89

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