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Fraser, George Robert (1932-)

  • Fraser, George Robert (b.1932)
  • Archives and manuscripts

About this work


The cataloguing of this archive was done in close contact with Dr Fraser. In passing on material and in checking the catalogue he supplied a number of explanatory notes recording context of archival material. These records are reproduced in the catalogue entries where appropriate.

The varied and international nature of George Fraser's career did not encourage the preservation of archives. In this context, therefore, the survival of the bulk of the original source material from his two major studies of profound deafness and visual impairment dating from the late 1950s is both unexpected and welcome.

The case files and associated material from these studies form most of the archive. These first and foremost document the cases recorded in Fraser's published work. More generally they also offer insights into the domestic and family conditions of children with these impairments, medical treatment, educational provision and expectations for the visually and aurally handicapped, and social attitudes towards them.

It should be noted that because of the nature of Fraser’s investigations and the material produced in the course of them, his archive contains much sensitive material.

The material is arranged as follows:

Section A: Biographical, includes a curriculum vitae and other autobiographical information, including a revised version of the transcript of Fraser's interview by Professor P.S. Harper (February 2005). This retains the original questions of Harper but adds to and clarifies Fraser's original answers. An autobiographical supplement to this document extending the information given to his troubled years in Oxford between 1984 and 1997, has been prepared for this catalogue and is included. There is also a little miscellaneous material relating to Fraser's career, including correspondence from the 1960s shedding light on the difficulties he had previously encountered in the UK.

There are two major subsections. The first relates to the book Fifty Years of Human Genetics: A Festschrift and Liber Amicorum to Celebrate the Life and Work of George Robert Fraser, edited by Oliver Mayo and Carolyn Leach (Kent Town, South Australia: Wakefield Press, 2007). The chapters and themes of the volume were used (by Fraser himself and by the compilers of the catalogue) as a frame around which to group some of the documentation of Fraser's career and research. The second major subsection is material relating to the Fraser syndrome, the multiple malformation syndrome, often including the cardinal feature of cryptophthalmos, identified as a condition inherited in an autosomal recessive manner by Fraser in 1962.

Section B: Deafness in Childhood, is the largest in the archive. It has been divided into subsections following Fraser's own organisation of the material. The bulk is case files on deaf children from the various surveys carried out. Most of these cases were from the 1959-1961 survey of special schools in the UK and Ireland, with further cases from a survey in Oxfordshire and Berkshire, and the later survey carried out in South Australia. Case files may include questionnaires, medical notes, correspondence with parents of affected children, family and hospital doctors, teachers and education authority officials (most of the children were in special schools), audiograms, electrocardiograms and photographs.

In addition to the case files presented by survey, there are many case files included with material for specific chapters of the book, The Causes of Profound Deafness in Childhood. These cases were selected by Fraser as being particularly suitable as illustrative of various auditory impediments. Other material here includes correspondence with colleagues, drafts of chapters, tables and figures, and background material, chiefly reference material in the form of offprints or photocopies thereof but including unpublished typescripts and notes.

Other material in this section documents Ph.D. research into Pendred's syndrome ('Deafness with Goitre'), and research in the 1960s with P. Froggatt on the association between electrocardiographic (ECG) abnormalities and deafness. The work is described in 'The cardio-auditory syndrome of Jervell and Lange-Nielsen: the anatomy of a population study' by Froggatt in the Festschrift to Fraser (a copy is at PP/GRF/B.293). The syndrome could cause sudden or 'cot' death in infants and young children.

Section C: Blindness in Childhood, is principally material relating to the surveys undertaken by Fraser for his M.D. thesis ‘The causes of blindness in childhood: a study of 776 children with severe visual handicap in special schools’ and the subsequent book, during the period 1963-1965. As with section B, there are many case files which include questionnaires, medical notes, correspondence with parents of affected children, family and hospital doctors, teachers and education authority officials. With minor revisions, the M.D. thesis was published as The Causes of Blindness in Childhood. A study of 776 children with severe visual handicaps, with a preface by L.S. Penrose by Fraser and A.I. Friedmann, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1967). Following his move to Adelaide in January 1966, Fraser continued to study cases of blindness encountered in South Australia.

The section also presents material assembled for publications on cases of Choroideremia, Iminoglycinuria and Dysplasia spondyloepiphysaria congenita.

Section D: 'Cretinism', is slight. It is material assembled by Fraser in the course of research into goitre and deafness during which he also examined the connection between goitre and cretinism (as infantile hypothyroidism was then termed) and between cretinism and taste-sensitivity to phenylthiocarbamide.

Section E: Other research, is chiefly documentation of studies, begun under the leadership of A.G. Motulsky and Phaedon Fessas in 1961-1963, on glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency in Greece. There is also material from Fraser's second spell at Seattle 1968-1971, and his collaboration with the INSERM Unit U88 (Medical Informatics and Biostatistics) at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris on computer programs for pedigree analyses using data from a large Newfoundland family of over 3,000 individuals.

Section F: Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) Familial Cancer Registry and Cancer Genetic Clinic, is not extensive but it offers coverage of the work of Fraser in establishing and extending the work of the Registry and the Cancer Genetic Clinic, and of his position in Oxford up to and after retirement. Much of the material relates to the software systems used by the ICRF.

Section G: Publications, is chiefly Fraser's collected set of his offprints and his books 1959-2010. There are also shorter pieces including book reviews and letters submitted to the Economist.

Section H: Visits, conferences and lectures, offers partial coverage of Fraser's travel and attendance at meetings. The section includes abstracts of presentations by Fraser to UK and international meetings, 1959-1973, taken from Heredity, Annals of Human Genetics and other journals. Later Fraser made a number of visits to Latin America which are documented here, and lectured in both Spanish and Portuguese. After retirement he contributed to meetings on the history of genetics at which he was able to pay tribute to L. S. Penrose. The section also includes Fraser's lecture on ‘Fraser Syndrome: two millennia of cryptophthalmos from Pliny the Elder to Peter Scambler via George Fraser', delivered in Montreal, Canada, October 2007, and in a modified form in Geneva, Switzerland, March 2008. Fraser has suggested a more appropriate title for the modified Geneva version would have been ‘Fraser Syndrome: two millennia of cryptophthalmos from Pliny the Elder to FRAS and FREM'.

Section J: Correspondence, is not extensive. The bulk is the additional correspondence (some in the form of printed-out emails) received in November 2010, which has been arranged alphabetically by name of correspondent. This includes contributors to the Festschrift. Subjects range from personal and social news to research questions. It should be noted that there is correspondence to be found throughout the collection.

Section K: comprises some sets of photographic slides used to illustrate lectures.

There is also an index of correspondents available in the hard-copy catalogue.



Physical description

69 boxes, 7 digital images, 2 digital presentations


By section as follows:

Section A. Biographical;

Section B. Deafness;

Section C. Blindness In Childhood;

Section D. ‘Cretinism’;

Section E. Other research;

Section F. Imperial Cancer Research Fund Familial Cancer Registry And Cancer Genetic Clinic;

Section G. Publications;

Section H. Visits, conferences and lectures;

Section J: Correspondence;

Section K: Photographic slides;

Index of correspondents is available in hard-copy catalogue.

Acquisition note

The archives were transferred to the Wellcome Library by the Wellcome Genetics Archives Project in January 2011.

Biographical note

George Fraser (born Fazekas) was born into a medical family in Užhorod, a town then in Czechoslovakia, on 3 March 1932. He came to England with his family following the dissolution of that country in March 1939, as his father’s left-wing politics had placed them in danger from the Fascist authorities in Bratislava, the capital of the newly independent Slovak Republic, where the family were living.

When the Second World War began, Fraser was evacuated from London where the family were living as refugees, to an orphanage in Cheshire where he attended the local village school. Later Fraser was able to rejoin his family in Oxford where his father had been sent to study for the purpose of converting his Czechoslovak credentials into a licence to practise medicine in the United Kingdom. Through the financial generosity of its headmaster, Rev. Wilfrid Oldaker, Fraser was able to attend Christ Church Cathedral School. In 1944, he won a scholarship to Winchester College, after which he went to study in Paris for a year in 1949-1950 (diplomas in French, Russian and Hungarian). He won an open entrance scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge in mathematics, but, at the wish of his father, he pursued the studies required for a medical career (the Natural Sciences Tripos) and for Part II opted to study Genetics under R.A. Fisher in 1952-1953. Genetics was first offered as a subject for Part II in 1951-1952 and there were no applicants that year. In 1952-1953, Fraser was the only student and his applied work was in serology under R.R.A. Coombs. On graduation in 1953, Fraser went to Italy to work for a short time in L.L. Cavalli-Sforza’s department at the Istituto Sieroterapico Milanese.

Although he was contemplating a career in genetics, he completed his clinical training in medicine at the London Hospital (B.Chir. 1956, M.B. 1957). In 1957, Fraser was awarded a Medical Research Council Scholarship in human/medical genetics and he moved to the Galton Laboratory, University College London to work under L.S. Penrose (Ph.D. on 'Deafness with Goitre (Syndrome of Pendred) and some related aspects of Thyroid Disease'). Fraser knew L.S. Penrose through his father (they had a shared interest in chess and were also both members of the Medical Association for the Prevention of War).

On completion of his Ph.D., in October 1959, Fraser joined A.C. Stevenson's Medical Research Council Population Genetics Research Unit in Oxford. This Unit was gathering research data in population genetics, and Fraser began a study of profound childhood deafness, studying 2,330 children in special schools for the deaf in the UK and Ireland. For the studies in Belfast and Dublin he was accompanied by his long-term collaborator in studies on deafness with abnormal ECG (Jervell and Lange-Nielsen syndrome), P. Froggatt of Queen’s University, Belfast. The methodology was based on Penrose’s famous Colchester survey of mental defect ('A clinical and genetic survey of 1280 cases of mental defect', Medical Research Council Special Report 229, 1938). The work of this and further surveys was published in 1976 as The Causes of Profound Deafness in Childhood. A study of 3,535 individuals with severe hearing loss present at birth or of childhood onset, with a foreword by V.A. McKusick (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976).

In November 1961 Fraser moved to the US as a Research Fellow in A.G. Motulsky's Department of Medical Genetics, University of Washington, Seattle. Here Fraser was involved with analysing the results of Motulsky’s studies of frequencies of haemoglobinopathies and of G6PD deficiency, as well as of blood and serum groups, in various populations. Most of his time was spent with these studies, including several months of field work in Yugoslavia and Greece in the summer of 1962. Fraser recorded,

'One aspect of this work led to a startling result a quarter of a century later. I worked in 1962 on calculating frequencies of alleles responsible for haemoglobinopathies, G6PD-deficiency, blood groups and serum groups in blood specimens collected by Motulsky in various countries including the Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). Twenty-five years later, in 1987, Motulsky wrote me a letter stating that a stored serum specimen (L70) from his Leopoldville (Kinshasa) series, which was collected in 1959, had been found to be positive for HIV - one of the first cases to be recorded. And he asked me in his letter who this man, L70, was. Did I have the details of the subjects from whom he had collected blood in 1959?

I remember lists of numbers in the exercise books from which I had worked in Seattle. I do not remember that these books contained any details (apart from gender) about the donors of the samples. And I had left the exercise books in Seattle 25 years previously! A journalist called Edward Hooper has made a career out of constructing polemical theories about the origins of HIV and AIDS. He came to see me in about 2000 and interrogated me at length about the exercise books. Hooper’s views about specimen L70 are extensively discussed in his book The River: a Journey back to the Sources of HIV and AIDS, (Allen Lane: Penguin Press, 1999).'

Fraser returned to London in March 1963 to work with Professor Arnold Sorsby, Department of Research in Ophthalmology, Royal College of Surgeons, on a study of blindness in childhood. This study, which involved 776 children at schools for the blind, was a replica of his previous study of profound childhood deafness. The research was used for his M.D. thesis (The Causes of Blindness in Childhood. A study of 776 children with severe visual handicap in special schools) for the University of Cambridge, which won the Raymond Horton-Smith Prize for the best M.D. thesis of the academic year 1965-1966. With minor revisions, this thesis was published as Fraser and A. I. Friedmann, The Causes of Blindness in Childhood. A study of 776 children with severe visual handicaps, with a preface by L.S. Penrose (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1967). On the completion of the work, in January 1966, Fraser moved to the University of Adelaide, to join H. Bennett's Department of Genetics. Fraser was appointed Reader and also Associate Physician in Clinical Genetics at the Adelaide Children’s Hospital. He undertook further extensive studies of blind children and of both adults and children with profound childhood deafness, in Adelaide and its surroundings.

In January 1968 Fraser returned to Seattle as Associate Professor in Medical Genetics in the Department of Medicine, University of Washington, and Consultant in Clinical Genetics at the University and Children's Orthopedic Hospitals. However, his position in Seattle was not secure and in 1971 he moved to The Netherlands as Professor of Human Genetics at the University of Leiden, succeeding Marcello Siniscalco. However, his proposed research project into the distribution of inherited disease and the contribution of genetical factors to disease in general in the population of the province of Zeeland, was thwarted and Fraser left Leiden in October 1973 for the Memorial University of Newfoundland. Here, from 1973 to 1976, as Professor of Medical Genetics, he was involved in research on the concentration of common variable immunodeficiency, Hodgkin's disease, and other malignancies in a very large Newfoundland family. In 1975, 1976 and 1979, he spent some 12 months in Paris and collaborated with the members of the INSERM Unit U88 (Medical Informatics and Biostatistics) at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in an analysis of the Newfoundland family using the computer programs which they had developed.

From 1976-1979 Fraser held various appointments in Canada, including that of Chief, Department of Congenital Anomalies and Inherited Diseases, Department of National Health and Welfare, Federal Government of Canada. In 1980 Fraser moved to the USA. He was Special Expert (Medical Officer) in Human Genetics and Director of the Human Genetics Knowledge Base at the Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications, National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, USA. He headed a group using V.A. McKusick's Mendelian Inheritance in Man to explore the application of computer techniques, based in part on Artificial Intelligence, to the communication of biomedical knowledge to the medical profession. The Human Genetics Knowledge Base was a constituent part of the Knowledge Base Research Program (KBRP) at the Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications. In 1983-1984, he was also was attached to the Moore Clinic for Medical Genetics, Johns Hopkins Hospital, as a lecturer at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

In 1984 Fraser left North America to return to the UK. He was appointed Senior Clinical Research Fellow in the Imperial Cancer Research Fund in Oxford and Honorary Consultant in Medical Genetics at the Churchill Hospital, Oxford. Fraser established a Registry of Familial Cancer, comprising families with unusual aggregations of common cancers and in 1990 he established the Cancer Genetic Clinic at the Churchill Hospital. He reached formal retirement age in 1997, then serving for two more years as an unpaid Honorary Consultant (non-clinical) in the Department of Medical Genetics at the Churchill Hospital.

Fraser made notable contributions in a number of areas of genetics. In a letter of April 2005 to M. Warburg (see PP/GRF/A.6), his friend and colleague O. Mayo summarised his work thus:

'He studied the aetiology, especially its hereditary components, of childhood handicaps, publishing in book form his surveys of severe visual handicaps and of profound hearing loss in childhood. In the field of population genetics, he worked on the distribution of blood polymorphisms, on associations of quantitative traits and polymorphisms, on the genetics of isolates, "genetical load", on methods of linkage analysis and on the relationship between the practice of medical genetics and the human gene pool. On the last topic he wrote several papers relevant to the ethical aspects of medical genetics. He was an active investigator, as well as a counsellor, in clinical genetics in connection with sensory handicaps in childhood, congenital malformations, haemoglobinopathies and other red blood cell abnormalities, endocrine diseases and familial cancer. He has also contributed to historical aspects of human genetics'.

In Fraser's 1962 paper 'Our genetical load: a review of some aspects of genetical variation', Annals of Human Genetics, Vol. 25 (1962), he had identified a multiple malformation syndrome, commonly characterised by cryptophthalmos, syndactyly, renal defects, and many other malformations, as being inherited in an autosomal recessive manner. This led to V.A. McKusick styling it the Fraser syndrome in the first edition of Mendelian Inheritance in Man (1966). In the 1990s chromosome 4 became the target for the location of a gene responsible for the syndrome, and in the early 2000s the gene involved was mapped to chromosome 4q21 and named FRAS1 in Fraser’s honour.

The sentiment guiding Fraser's research was expressed by the Greek pre-Socratic philosopher Xenophanes of Colophon (ca 570-475 BCE) in a quotation which Fraser was fond of including in letters to friends and colleagues, translated by him in 2011 as 'Yet the gods have not revealed all things to mortals in the beginning: but, in seeking, Man, with the passage of time, finds out better'.

Terms of use

This collection has been catalogued and is available to library members. Some items have access restrictions which are explained in the item-level catalogue records.

Finding aids

Index to correspondents available in hard-copy catalogue.

Language note


Accruals note

Additional material related to Fraser's study of Pendred Syndrome was acquired from Dr Fraser in 2015 (acc.2201). This material is currently uncatalogued and primarily comprises patient data, which is closed under the Data Protection Act.

Ownership note

The bulk of the archive was received by the Wellcome Genetics Archives Project from Dr Fraser, via storage, in February 2010. Further material was received from Dr W. P. Reardon in April 2010 and from Dr Fraser in June, November and December 2010 and January 2011.


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