Börje Uvnäs

Börje was born on 20 June 1913. He studied medicine at the University of Lund, Sweden in the 1930s. Several years later Georg Kahlson invited him to join the physiology department of the University of Lund and he worked there for nearly 15 years. In 1942, he discovered that on stimulating the vagus nerve, a substance was released into the blood, which caused gastric secretion. This was a landmark in gastroenterology. It was many years later, after the development of radioimmunoassay (RIA), before this substance (gastrin) was finally identified. After the second World War, Börje went to the United States of America to continue working on gastric physiology with Professor Ivy of Northwestern University in Chicago. He had no laboratory assistant and so his wife worked as his technician! It was here that he met C. A. Dragstedt, a pharmacologist who was well known for his work on the role of histamine in anaphylactic reactions, and Börje started his interest in this biogenic amine. A year later, Börje returned to Sweden and continued his vasodilator research, using the techniques which he had learnt in America. Soon after he was appointed to the new chair in physiology at Lund University, he moved to the chair in pharmacology at the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm. Here over the years, he built up a large and thriving department. One of the areas of research in this department was histamine, in particular the mechanism by which mast cells degranulate and then the mechanism of histamine storage and release from mast cell granules. In the early 1960s, Börje organised an international symposium on the ‘Modes of action of drugs’ and this was the start of a series of international pharmacological congresses and was a strong impetus to the development of pharmacology. It also led to the formation of the International Union of Pharmacologists (IUPHAR) with the first World Congress of Pharmacology in 1961 being headed by Börje in Stockholm.

Even though Börje was officially retired, this did not stop his interest in pharmacology and in particular in histamine. He was a constant supporter of the EHRS and regularly attended our meetings. He could always be found giving supportive advice to the younger presenters. He did not lose the thirst for his science until his death on 5 November 2003, and it is still a continual stimulus to us all.