Professor Martin Allday

Professor Martin Allday died on 2nd May 2017, aged 66.   Martin was the Action Research Virology Professor at Imperial College and an internationally recognised leading scientist in his research field, the biology of Epstein-Barr virus.  This virus causes glandular fever and is involved in several types of human cancer.

Martin graduated in Biology at the University of London (Bedford College) in 1972 and then first trained as a teacher, doing a PGCE qualification at London Institute of Education. He worked for 9 years from 1975 as a lecturer in Cell Biology at Paddington Technical College in London. During this time he completed an MSc at Brunel University.  He switched to a research career by moving initially to University of Sussex working with Sandy McGillivray and then soon joined Beverly Griffin’s laboratory at Hammersmith Hospital, where Martin completed his PhD in 1989.  Beverly Griffin was a distinguished tumour virologist and specialist in Epstein-Barr virus research; this is where Martin set on his long term research career path. After his PhD, Martin undertook postdoctoral work in Boston with David Thorley-Lawson, who also had a formative effect on Martin’s career. He became a long term friend of Martin and his family, and the most influential of all his scientific colleagues. Returning to London in 1990, Martin joined the virology group in Clinical Sciences at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine with a prestigious Royal Society University Research Fellowship. In 1993 he moved to the Virology Section lead by Paul Farrell (also an EBV researcher) at the St Mary’s campus of Imperial College.  It was here that Martin fully developed his independent career and Martin was promoted to Reader and then in 2000 to Professor. During this time Martin was successful in winning long term program and investigator grant support from the Wellcome Trust for his research. For many years, he also jointly led a Wellcome Trust PhD programme on the Molecular Basis of Infection at Imperial College.

Martin’s research was focussed mainly on the EBNA3 family of genes of Epstein-Barr virus. The proteins expressed from these genes (EBNA3A, 3B and 3C) play key roles in the mechanism by which the virus causes infected white blood cells (B lymphocytes) to grow. These mechanisms are important for the natural persistent infection of most of the world’s population by EBV and for its role in some human cancers. When Martin started work on the EBNA3 proteins, their functions were very obscure but he showed that they somehow controlled expression of other genes. Over many years of increasingly elegant experimentation, combining the power of viral genetics with molecular biology and a clear instinct for biological understanding, Martin’s research group has provided much of our current understanding of how the EBNA3 proteins control gene expression. Particularly impressive recent papers include showing that EBNA3B acts as a tumour suppressor gene (arguably the first clear example of this in a virus) and that the key target for EBNA3C is the cell p16ink4a cyclin dependent kinase inhibitor. His work has provided important new insights into how a virus may cause cancer in people.

Away from the lab, Martin developed a keen interest in river and salt water fly fishing over the last 15 years – always observing the catch and release rules. He regularly enjoyed river fishing in Dorset, Scotland and Ireland but his biggest catch was during a salt water fishing expedition in Alfonse Island in the Seychelles. This was a huge trigger fish (pictured above) and earned Martin the local title of "Trigger King" !

Towards the end of his career, Martin suffered for more than 5 years with cancer and the prolonged effects of treatment. He showed extraordinary determination and resilience throughout this time. In terms of publications and advancing knowledge, the most successful part of his research career was in these last 5 years when he was also enduring the severe effects of his treatment. When he was unable to come to the lab, he still held group meeting at his home and his staff and students continued to benefit from his guidance and mentorship. He will be remembered as an excellent colleague, deeply committed to his research and his research group.   He is survived by his wife Hilary, two children and two grandchildren.

Martin's family suggest donations to Cancer Research UK, which can be made in his memory at Just Giving

Read more in Martin's Guardian obituary