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J R Soc Med. 2005 September; 98(9): 437–438.
PMCID: PMC1199655

Quartet of Unlikely Discoveries

In his review of Sylvia and James Tait's Quartet of Unlikely Discoveries Sir Richard Bayliss says, ‘In conjunction with Roger Ekins, the Taits developed immunoassay techniques for the measurement of thyroid hormones... ’. In their book they made no claim to have done so. In the early to mid 1950s the Taits were primarily engaged in work on hormones of the adrenal cortex, which culminated in their discovery of ‘electrocortin’ (aldosterone). I, on the other hand, working on radioisotope techniques for diagnosis and therapy, had reached the conclusion that radioisotopic tests of thyroid function could not be reliably interpreted without knowledge of the blood levels of thyroid hormone. Thus, albeit for differing reasons, both the Taits and I had an interest in measurement of hormones in blood. The technique they used for steroid hormones in many of their pioneering studies was the double-isotope labelled reagent method—too arduous and time-consuming for use in routine diagnosis. In 1954 I hit upon the concept I termed ‘saturation analysis’ (later generally known as ‘ligand’ or ‘binding’ assay), but 5 years were to pass before I had the opportunity to develop and publish a T4 binding assay employing radioiodinated thyroxine. The Taits moved to the Worcester Foundation in 1957. I do recall a conversation with James Tait (in the showers after a game of squash) in which I outlined the saturation analysis principle. He responded very encouragingly, but this was the entire extent of the Taits' participation in the development of binding assay techniques for the thyroid hormones.

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