Chris Nordin’s legacy forged in war-time Stockholm

Bone health

By Tony James

3 Nov 2015

The values of Chris Nordin which drove his internationally-recognised career in osteoporosis research may have been forged by his experiences as a young man in Stockholm during World War II.

Delivering a memorial oration for Professor Nordin, who died in October 2014 aged 94, Professor Howard Morris from the University of Adelaide said Nordin was a young man exploring Europe when he moved from Switzerland to Sweden three days before war was declared.

With an English mother and Swedish/Finnish father, Nordin was fluent not only in these languages but also Danish, French and German. “His ambition to learn Polish was curtailed by the war,” Professor Morris said.

With thoughts of becoming a journalist or politician, Nordin offered his services as a translator to journalists based in the safe haven of Stockholm, but was instead recruited by the British government to monitor newspapers and other publications from Germany.

“This was an environment where people were prepared to give their lives for ideas, and I think that experience influenced his very rigorous approach to his working life,” Professor Morris said.

Nordin started studying medicine by correspondence while in Stockholm and completed his degree in England after the war.

Although he officially retired from the University of Adelaide in 2010 at the age of 90, he continued to work.

His tally of 509 papers, in journals including Nature, Science, The Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine, will continue to grow with posthumous credits for research already in progress. His ninth book was published just last year.

Professor Morris outlined Nordin’s substantial impact on understanding osteoporosis, commencing in earnest when he was appointed as director of the MRC Mineral Metabolism Unit in 1964, where he remained until moving to Adelaide in 1981.

His contributions included the development of investigative procedures for analysing bone structure and metabolism, ranging from an improved trephine for bone biopsies through to the early adoption of computer technology for data collection and analysis.

His focus on nutrition and clinical pathophysiology helped establish the links between calcium, vitamin D and osteoporosis, and extended to include the effects of menopause on bone and the potential of oestrogen replacement therapy.

“Chris Nordin said that he stood for selective rather than indiscriminate treatment,” Professor Morris said.

“He was an early advocate of personalised medicine, based on understanding our patients as well as their disease.”

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