Robert Daniel Lawrence (known as Robin) was born at 10 Ferryhill Place, Aberdeen and attended the Grammar School. Both at school and university he was considered an excellent ‘all-rounder’ with interests in sport, angling and the RAMC. He was popular and enjoyed socialising but also obtained high academic results. He was appointed President of the Students’ Representative Council while studying for his medical degree and his photograph (left) in ‘Alma Mater’, the Aberdeen University Magazine of 1914-15 shows a healthy young man with his future career in medicine ahead of him.
However while he was working in London an accident occurred. A piece of bone went into his eye, resulting in sepsis and long term damage to his eye. Soon after this a diagnosis of diabetes was made. As this was in 1920, insulin had not been discovered and Robin Lawrence knew the prognosis was poor. He decided to move to Florence for the rest of his short life. A specialised diet was the only treatment available for diabetes before the discovery of insulin. Frederick Allen found that undernutrition of diabetic patients postponed their deaths. When diagnosed, Lawrence was starved until his urine was free of sugar and then he had to control his carbohydrate intake. This regime only helped for a short time and in 1923 when he got notification from his colleague in London that insulin worked, Lawrence hurried home to try this new treatment.
With his personal success of insulin treatment he became very interested in diabetes and set up his clinic at King’s College Hospital, London. Realising diet was still an important part of treatment he investigated the carbohydrate composition of foods. He weighed diets and published Food Tables. He helped his patients too by writing clear, easy to read books including The Diabetic Life and The Diabetic ABC.
The writer H G Wells was one of Lawrence’s patients and together in 1934 they decided to set up a group for people with diabetes, the Diabetic Association. As well as helping patients, the Association assisted in funding research. Dr Hans Kosterlitz, working in the Physiology Department of the University of Aberdeen was one of the first researchers to benefit. The Association later helped their members obtain more protein when food rationing was started during the Second World War. Thus R D Lawrence was a prominent physician in the early treatment of diabetes and he helped many patients. He suffered a stroke but survived for several more years, dying in 1968. He is commemorated by a plaque at 10 Ferryhill Place.