NEW YORK — Dr. William Frankland, one of the top allergists of the 20th century and an indomitable researcher who helped legions of hay fever sneezers by distributing daily pollen counts to the British public, died in London last week. He was 108.
The British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology announced his death on its website.
Dr. Frankland, who was among the world’s oldest active scientists, remained remarkably vigorous to the end, despite having come close to death several times in his long life.
He was born prematurely, weighing just over 3 pounds, and he contracted bovine tuberculosis as a child. Later, while serving in the British Army, he spent years as a malnourished prisoner of war in Japanese camps. He had another brush with death when he used himself as an experiment on a biting insect and had an anaphylaxis reaction.
Dr. Frankland was best known in professional circles for a number of groundbreaking clinical studies. In 1954, he proved that pollen proteins were the parts of plants most useful in preseason allergy inoculations, and in 1955, he debunked the efficacy of treating asthma with bacterial vaccines.
He was an early proponent of using allergen injections to desensitize patients with severe allergies and developed immunotherapy serums for hay fever sufferers with pollen from one of the world’s largest pollen farms, which he operated outside London until the late 1960s.
It was while investigating desensitization to insect bites that Dr. Frankland allowed the South American insect Rhodnius prolixus to bite his arm at weekly intervals. The eighth bite sent him into life-threatening anaphylaxis, from which a nurse revived him with repeated shots of adrenaline.
Among the tens of thousands of patients that Dr. Frankland treated was Saddam Hussein, who summoned the doctor to Baghdad in 1979. Dr. Frankland found that the Iraqi leader had no allergies but was suffering from the effects of excessive smoking, consuming as many as 40 cigarettes a day.
“I advised him to stop smoking,” Dr. Frankland told medical journal The BMJ. “Three-and-a-half months later he was dramatically better, and because he was so grateful, I was invited back to Baghdad with my family to have lunch with him.”
Dr. Frankland’s research sometimes included rare cases, including one involving a patient who suspected she was allergic to her partner’s semen. She reported, however, that she had no allergic reaction from sexual encounters with other men, in effect providing Dr. Frankland with data from a control group, as is often done in scientific experiments. She told him, “Those controls were not done for your benefit, only mine.”
Alfred William Frankland was born in Sussex, England, on March 19, 1912, one of twin boys. His father, a vicar in the Church of England, moved the family to Britain’s Lake District, where the boys grew up surrounded by farms. Dr. Frankland discovered that he suffered from hay fever.
He attended St. Bees School in West Cumberland before studying medicine at Queen’s College, Oxford, and St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School, now part of Imperial College London. After finishing his studies, he enlisted in the army three days before the outbreak of World War II, anticipating that doctors would be needed. He was sent to Singapore, where he arrived just days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
By chance, he was sent to work in Singapore’s Tanglin Military Hospital rather than the newly opened Alexandra Military Hospital, which became overrun by Japanese troops who massacred the doctors, nurses, and patients there — one of several times that luck kept Dr. Frankland alive. He was taken prisoner Feb. 15, 1942, and spent the remainder of the war in Japanese prison camps, underfed and overworked, treating the other men.
Upon his return to Britain., Dr. Frankland took a post at St. Mary’s, where he worked with Sir Alexander Fleming, who was awarded a Nobel Prize for the discovery of penicillin. In fact, the mold that had contaminated Fleming’s Petri dishes decades earlier and led to the development of modern antibiotics came from the allergy department, which was directly below Fleming’s laboratory. Dr. Frankland correctly predicted that some patients would be allergic to the new wonder drug.
Dr. Frankland had a pollen trap installed on the roof of St. Mary’s and began distributing daily pollen counts to the British news media in the early 1960s, one of the first allergists to do so. Pollen counts are now a staple of weather reports around the world.
Over his career, Dr. Frankland published more than 100 articles and academic papers on allergies, including four that he wrote after turning 100. He accumulated many honors, including being named a member of the Order of the British Empire in 2015.
Complete information on survivors was not immediately available.
Dr. Frankland lived the last few years of his life alone in the flat in central London that he had shared with his wife. He cooked his own meals and, though using a walking stick, followed a routine of daily exercises into his 100s.
Given his brushes with death, Dr. Frankland was frequently asked what the secret of his longevity was. He would reply simply: “luck.”