Pioneering physician who worked on polio vaccine

Prof Patrick Meenan PROF PATRICK Meenan, who has died aged 91, was a former dean of the faculty of medicine at University College…

Prof Patrick MeenanPROF PATRICK Meenan, who has died aged 91, was a former dean of the faculty of medicine at University College Dublin (UCD), and a former president of the Medical Council.

Acting president of UCD from December 1985 to January 1986, he was a member of the university's governing body and of the senate of the National University of Ireland.

Virology was his special interest, and he was closely associated with Albert Sabin and Jonas Salk in developing the polio vaccine.

He had a lifelong association with UCD, his father having been a foundation professor of the college, a member of the medical faculty and, coincidentally, also, in 1947, acting president.

As a student at UCD, he was auditor of the Literary and Historical Society (1940-41), as were his elder and younger brothers, James and Charles.

Born in Dublin in 1917, he was the son of James Meenan and his wife Mary (née Cleary). He was educated at the Catholic University School, Clongowes Wood and UCD. Having completed his primary medical qualifications in 1941, he was awarded the MD degree on published work in 1946. Contemporaneously he studied law and was called to the Bar in 1944.

Following a year's postgraduate study in Edinburgh and London, he was appointed as assistant pathologist to St Vincent's Hospital, Dublin. In 1955 he became director of the hospital's pathology department.

In 1947 he started a small laboratory for virus research at St Vincent's Hospital, which was later designated as the World Health Organisation regional influenza laboratory for Ireland. He was made director and the laboratory was subsequently housed in UCD.

With the establishment in 1958 of the chair of microbiology as applied to medicine, a separate department within the faculty of medicine was established, to which was added in 1967 the virus reference laboratory established in association with the Department of Health. Dr Meenan was appointed to the professorship.

A vast amount of investigation was carried out and published by Prof Meenan and the staff of the department of medical microbiology, as it became known. Major areas of study in the laboratory's early days were influenza and poliomyelitis as well as pneumonia and infective hepatitis.

Arising from his study of poliomyelitis he was awarded a World Health Organisation (WHO) fellowship in 1955 to visit the medical schools in the principal American universities.

His first appointment to the staff of UCD was as an assistant in pathology; he was appointed to a statutory lectureship in bacteriology in 1954.

He lectured to undergraduates in the medical faculty, and for postgraduate courses such as the Diploma in Public Health and the Diploma in Psychological Medicine.

It was his initiative that led to the inauguration in 1983 of the Medical Graduates' Association, and he was elected its first president.

He frequently represented Ireland at international conferences on virus diseases. His publications included The Essentials of Virus Diseases (1951), which became a standard textbook, and he contributed many articles to Irish and British medical journals.

In 2003 the Supreme Court upheld his challenge to the Laffoy Commission after he was asked to give evidence on the issue of vaccination trials carried out in children's homes in the early 1960s.

His solicitors argued that on grounds of age and health he should not be obliged to give evidence.

When the commission then ordered Prof Meenan, who was in his 87th year, to attend a hearing to determine whether or not he should indeed be excused on age and health grounds, he went to the courts. Ruling on the case, the Supreme Court was strongly critical of the commission for not treating Prof Meenan with sufficient sensitivity. The then chief justice, Mr Justice Ronan Keane, said the vaccine trials appeared to have "only the most tenuous connection, if any", with the abuse of children in institutions, into which the commission was established to inquire.

Prof Meenan was a member of all the major learned societies for the study of pathology and microbiology, of the Medico-Legal Society, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine and of the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland.

A former chairman of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, in the 1970s he also chaired the Food Advisory Council. From 1968 to 1970 he was president of the Royal Zoological Society of Ireland.

Keenly interested in sports, he served as president of UCD rugby and cricket clubs and the athletic union council. Author of St Patrick's Blue and Saffron: a History of Sport in UCD, he was also a member and past-president of Pembroke Cricket Club.

Predeceased by his wife Maireád, a UCD arts graduate, he is survived by his daughters Brenda, Katherine, Rosanne and sons Nahor and James.


Patrick N Meenan: born June 30th, 1917; died June 30th, 2008