Moir, John Chassar, 1900-1977

John Chassar Moir CBE, MD, FRCS (Ed), FRCOG (1900-1977), Nuffield Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Oxford from 1937-1967, is best remembered for his work on the effects of the fungus ergot and its derivatives on labour. His early studies on the muscular activity of the pregnant and non-pregnant uterus led to the discovery of a new active principle in ergot, and in collaboration with H W Dudley he isolated the substance ergometrine, which was widely used for the reduction of haemorrhage after childbirth.

John Chassar Moir was born in Montrose in Scotland in 1900, where his family ran a grocery store called William Moir and Sons. He did his medical training at Edinburgh University and graduated in 1922. After qualifying he started work at University College Hospital (UCH) in London as assistant to Professor F J Browne, where he did some very original work on uterine action. He assessed uterine activity in labour, and also under the influence of oxytocic drugs, particularly ergot. Chassar Moir arranged for women in labour to have a measuring apparatus around the body, which recorded the frequency and strength of uterine activity and the frequency of contractions. To test the effects of ergot and its alkaline derivatives, he placed a small bag into the uterus of a woman seven days after delivery (when the risk of sepsis would be low). The bag was attached via a rubber pipe to a recording machine comprising a needle moving over a rotating drum. He first described these experiments in 1932. With his colleagues at UCH, Chassar Moir identified the component of ergot that induced uterine contraction, ergometrine. It was immediately taken up into general obstetric practice as a means of preventing postpartum haemorrhage and speeding the delivery of the placenta.


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