King George III’s madness: the medical mystery | Professor Martin Warren | Think Kent

Professor Martin Warren, BBSRC Professorial Fellow and Professor of Biochemistry and Head of School at the University of Kent, discusses the use of advanced forensic techniques to uncover the truth of King George III’s madness. Did the King suffer with a rare inherited and incurable blood disorder called porphyria? Why did it affect him at a relatively late age, why was it so severe, and could it have been passed onto his descendants?

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Professor Warren joined the School of Biosciences at the University of Kent in 2005. He is a member of the Industrial Biotechnology and Synthetic Biology Group and the Centre for Molecular Processing.

He led the research that recently revealed how vitamin B12/antipernicious anaemia factor is made – a challenge often referred to as ‘the Mount Everest of biosynthetic problems’. The research team hopes that this newly-acquired information can be used to help persuade bacteria to make the vitamin in larger quantities, contributing to its use, for example, in medication for people suffering with the blood disorder pernicious anaemia.

He has published numerous articles on tetrapyrrole biosynthesis and the biochemistry underlying inherited retinopathies, as well as co-authoring a popular book on the link between tetrapyrrole biosynthesis and the madness of George III.

Martin was born in Northern Ireland, brought up in County Down, and went to Portora Royal School, Enniskillen. He subsequently went to Southampton University where he read Biochemistry as an undergraduate (1981-1984). He stayed on in the Biochemistry Department to do a PhD with Professor Peter Shoolingin-Jordan, which initiated his interest in the genetics and biochemistry of tetrapyrrole biosynthesis.

After completing his PhD studies, he moved in 1989 to Texas A & M University, where he worked as a research associated with Professor Ian Scott FRS on vitamin B12 biosynthesis. In 1991 he took up a lecturing position in the School of Biological Sciences at Queen Mary, University of London, where he stayed until 1995 when he moved to a Senior Lecturer position at the Institute of Ophthalmology, University College London. He was promoted to Reader of Biochemistry in 1998 but then moved back to the School of Biological Sciences at Queen Mary in 1999 to take up a Personal Chair.

In 2005 he moved to the University of Kent, where he is Professor of Biochemistry. In 2007 he was awarded a BBSRC Professorial Fellowship to work on the bioengineering of complex metabolic pathways.

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