Forgotten history of Dr. Akbar Mahomed – The British-Asian Muslim doctor who changed medicine


16 July 2018|02 Dhul Qa’dha 1439|Al Arabiya

When the UK finds itself in the midst of Brexit and the Windrush crisis of forced deportation of British subjects by the Home office, a feature originally published in on a forgotten British-Asian Muslim who changed modern medicine seems timely.

Frederick Akbar Mahomed, the 19th century doctor from Brighton, England, was the pioneer who found out that that “human life could be prolonged by reducing blood pressure”, after researching nephritis (inflammation of the kidneys) and hypertension.

This led to the introduction of the British Medical Association’s collective investigation record.

But in UK, Dr. Mahomed’s name is in oblivion, to say the least.

Huge contribution to modern medicine

The article points out that “it is appropriate to remind ourselves of the British-Asian Muslim who made foundational contributions to modern British medicine, and whose family was forced to change their Muslim surname in Edwardian London.”

Akbar Mahomed was the grandson of Bengali entrepreneur and traveler, Sake Dean Mahomed, who opened the first curry house in London.

Dr. Akbar Mahomed worked at Guy’s Hospital in London which was an important center of research into hypertension and kidney diseases.

Before that in 1869, Akbar Mahomed briefly attended the Sussex County Hospital at the age of 20.

At Guy’s Hospital, he won the Pupil’s Physical Society Prize in 1871 for his work on modifying and improving the use of the sphygmograph—the instrument that measured pulse and blood pressure.

His new sphygmograph was better at measurements and helped diagnose between pulses symptomizing various cardiac or renal diseases.

He also began innovating clinical inquiry in late 19th century British medicine and has been recognized as a “visionary diagnostician” who could outline “characteristic features of the pressure pulse in patients with high blood pressure and in persons with arteriosclerosis consequent on ageing.”

In 1871, Akbar Mahomed joined the Central London Sick Asylum, where he studied sphygmographic tracings of many of his patients with symptoms of Bright’s Disease. He deduced hypertension to be a primary and separate event causing functional kidney damage, preceding discharge of albumin in urine.

While he demonstrated that high blood pressure could exist even in apparently healthy individuals, he also clarified how high arterial tension could affect the heart, kidney, and the brain without the onset of renal diseases, until at an old age.

Later, he worked as a resident medical officer at the London Fever Hospital.

Akbar Mahomed also spearheaded the development of a Collective Investigation Record, the precursor of modern collaborative clinical trials, and also pioneered blood transfusion in the haemorrhage of typhoid, and made a significant contribution to the surgical management of appendicitis.

Akbar Mahomed’s efforts culminated in the Collective Investigation Committee bringing out a 76-page Record of over 2,000 patients, in 1883.

Akbar Mahomed’s family lived on St Thomas’ Street and later at Manchester Square.

But tragically Dr. Akbar Mahomed passed away in November 1884 when he was only 35, after suffering for 24 days from typhoid, which he contracted from a patient. His death was mourned by the Medical Press and the British Medical Journal as a national and international loss”.

Racial prejudice
Even though his medical pedigree was established, Dr.Akbar Mahomed could not escape the racial prejudice that prevailed at that time, with some of his students considering his “teaching and his methods…as foreign as his name to the atmosphere of the place” and the obituaries mentioned his “dark complexion.”

Akbar Mahomed’s son, Archibald Deane (1874-1948), also became a doctor and practised at many leading hospitals.

He was the first from the family to use the new surname- Deane – an Anglicized version of his great grandfather’s first name, Deen.

The family name was changed as mixed marriages were frowned upon and rising xenophobic sentiment before the onset of World War II. The public memory about the pioneering doctor also faded, with only green plaque in Mayfair left for posterity.