BEFORE I go on to tell the story of the remarkable Dr June Almeida, the Scottish scientist who first identified human coronavirus, let me first of all apologise to all those who emailed me to say I had forgotten one of the great tributes to Dr Elsie Inglis, namely the fact that she was commemorated and celebrated by having a hospital named after her.

I just ran out of space last week, because I knew full well that the Elsie Inglis Memorial Maternity Hospital in Abbeyhill in Edinburgh was named after her, and indeed it was established with that name in 1925 with the funds left after Elsie’s Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service (SWH) disbanded. Taken into the NHS in 1948, Elsie’s closed 40 years later when services were transferred to the Eastern General, which itself closed in 2007. It later became a care home and then housed a nursery but Elsie’s has been lost to history, it would appear.

So how do we memorialise Elsie now? My old pal Chris Holme, formerly of The Herald, wrote the following in 2014: “I and my siblings were all born at Elsie’s and I also covered the closure protest as a Herald reporter. We were repeatedly assured that Elsie’s name would continue to be preserved in a working maternity unit in the city. These pledges were not honoured.”

I remember those promises, too, Chris, and as I pointed out last week, there is still no statue of Elsie in her home city of Edinburgh, though I know Lord Provost Frank Ross has taken a personal interest in seeing if one could be erected. NHS Lothian does have a career development scheme called “the Elsies” but memorials in stone or otherwise are few and far between.

We could take a leaf out of the book of Ambassador Denis Keefe, who in 2015 had a plaque in her honour made for the British Embassy Residence in Belgrade in Serbia, the country where she led the medical mission of the SWH. At the dedication of Elsie Inglis House by himself and the then president of the Republic of Serbia, Tomislav Nikolic, Ambassador Keefe said: “Elsie Inglis was one of the first women in Scotland who had finished high education and was a pioneer of medicine. She fought energetically against prejudice, for social and political emancipation of women in Britain. She was also a tireless volunteer, courageous organiser of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals and a dedicated humanitarian. Unfortunately, Elsie Inglis didn’t live long enough to see the triumph of some of her ideas, but she has had a tremendous influence on social trends in our country. In Scotland she became a doctor, in Serbia she became a saint.”

So much so that recently, it was announced that Serbia’s first ever palliative care hospice will honour her memory once more by bearing the name of Elsie Inglis.

Now, the Scottish Government could do something to right the wrong done to the memory of this great Scottish woman. It would also solve a problem which the NHS in Scotland is facing over the battered reputation of the capital’s Royal Hospital for Sick Children, aka the Sick Kids, though I’ve never liked that name. It is absolutely not the fault of the brilliant staff who work at the Sick Kids at the moment, but the delays and other problems in the construction of the new Sick Kids at Little France means the Royal Hospital for Children and Young People will start life with a “sick kids” cloud hanging over it.

So I am today calling on First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Health Secretary Jeane Freeman to do something very powerful to ensure that the name of Elsie Inglis, campaigner for women’s rights and pioneering doctor in the field of maternity and child care before she was ever a war doctor, remains very visible in Edinburgh and Scotland. I am urging them to name the new hospital The Elsie Inglis Royal Hospital for Children and Young People. Sure, the local citizenry will probably still call it the Sick Kids, but many people – including those born in its previous incarnation – would surely like to see the return of Elsie’s. If you feel the same way, email the First Minister and Ms Freeman and provide a link to this and my recent articles on Elsie, or visit The National’s website, Twitter and Facebook accounts and get the suggestion going viral.

And now to an amazing Scottish woman who was never recognised in her own lifetime – not so much as a bauble in the Honours Lists – despite her extraordinary pioneering work in a field of medical science where she remains an influence, despite having died in 2007.

Dr June Almeida’s name has surfaced again because of the coronavirus pandemic, which technically has the name Sars-Cov2, meaning it was a novel Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus causing Covid-19 disease. It was more than 50 years ago that Almeida’s pioneering work in electron microscopy led to the identification and naming of the first human coronavirus, and she really is a legend with a legacy because some of the techniques being used to identify and combat the latest version of coronavirus hark back to her work from the 1950s to the 1990s.

Almeida was recently included in the excellent “Overlooked” series of obituaries about remarkable people whose deaths went unreported in The New York Times, and they went as far back as 1851. They did her proud with an obituary that fully captured the sheer range of her achievements, and I have drawn on that obituary and numerous other sources for the facts of this column.

Born June Dalziel Hart on October 5, 1930, she was the daughter of a bus driver, Harry Leonard Hart, and his wife Jane, nee Dalziel Steven, who then lived on the second floor of a tenement at 10 Duntroon Street near Alexandra Park, which now stands in the shadow of the M8. In 1940, the family was struck by tragedy when Almeida’s six-year-old brother was lost to diphtheria, his death inspiring Almeida to take an interest in biological sciences.

Winner of the science prize at Whitehill Secondary School, Almeida had to leave school in 1947, the family having no funds to send her to university. There were plenty of indications, however, such as her teenage expertise in photography, that she would have been a very bright recruit to the student ranks, but instead she went to work as a laboratory technician in Glasgow Royal Infirmary, which enabled her to study the microscopic examination of tissue samples at which she became adept.

Headhunted by former Glasgow Royal doctor John WS Blacklock, she continued her career at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. In 1954, she married a 40-year-old artist from Venezuela, Enriques Rosalio Almeida, known to the art world as Henry Almeida. They had a daughter, Joyce, but the marriage would end in divorce.

The Almeidas emigrated to Canada in 1956, and by chance there was a vacancy for an electron microscope technician at the Ontario Cancer Institute in Toronto. Not only did she master the new technique of “negative staining”, in which a heavy metal such as phosphotungstic acid was used to heighten the contrast in the images, she used it to start making discoveries of her own and writing scientific papers, including groundbreaking studies of the structure of the viruses that cause rabies, chickenpox and verrucas. She would eventually author more than 100 of these studies and reports and many virologists study them to this day.

IN 1963 she made several breakthroughs in virus discovery, laying out the structure of viruses in an innovative way. In that same year she showed her sense of humour by beginning a journal article about the symmetrical structure of viruses with an ode to electron microscopy, and an apology to the poet William Blake.

“Virus, virus shining bright,

In the phosphotungstic night,

What immortal hand or eye,

Dare frame thy fivefold symmetry.”

In 1964, Almeida was persuaded by Professor A. P. Waterston to return to London to work at St Thomas’ Hospital Medical School, and while there she developed a way to visualise viruses by using antibodies to aggregate them. This technique was called immune electron microscopy, as the antibodies are used to clump viruses which makes them much easier to identify – a real breakthrough as previous methods meant hours to study a single sample.

Also in 1964, David Tyrrell, the head of the Health Common Cold Research Unit in Salisbury, called on her expertise to solve the riddle of a virus that he and his team had found in a boy at a boarding school. The specimens were designated B814.

Tyrrell wrote in his book Cold Wars: The Fight Against the Common Cold in 2002, co-authored with Michael Fielder: “She claimed she would be able to find virus particles in our organ cultures with her new improved techniques. It was worth a try. The results exceeded all our hopes. She recognised all the known viruses, and her pictures revealed the structures beautifully. But, more important, she saw virus particles in the B814 specimens.”

Almeida had discovered the first human coronavirus, and she, Tyrrell and Waterston decided to name it “coronavirus” because the viral particles displayed short spikey projections on their outer surfaces, resembling a crown, which in Latin is “corona”.

The pictures provided by Almeida were dismissed at first by other scientists as just fuzzy renditions of influenza viruses, and it took until 1967 for the breakthrough to be recognised and the name “coronavirus” accepted.

It was the crowning moment, if you’ll pardon the pun, of Almeida’s career, but she had many other accomplishments, such as capturing the first image of the rubella virus and identifying the structure of the virus that causes hepatitis B.

She also had considerable expertise as a teacher of her

methods to other virologists. Many of them would make important discoveries themselves, such as Albert Kapikian who used immune electron microscopy at the National Institutes of Health to discover the norovirus, the stomach bug that accounts for about half of all food-borne illness.

In 1972 she moved into the private sector, being recruited by Wellcome Research Laboratories in Kent to work on their development of tests and vaccines for different viruses. Almeida’s name appears on several of the patents granted to Wellcome for their discoveries.

She took early retirement in 1984 but returned to St. Thomas’ Hospital as an adviser in 1989, where once again her methods with negative staining helped produce some of the first high-quality photographs of HIV made with an electron microscope.

One of her colleagues at St Thomas’ was Professor Hugh Pennington, now emeritus professor of bacteriology at Aberdeen University and one of Scotland’s most famous scientists.

Describing Almeida as his mentor, he recently told The Herald: “She was an outstanding talent – hall of fame, definitely. What she touched in her research turned to gold.

“Without doubt she is one of the outstanding Scottish scientists of her generation, but sadly largely forgotten. Though ironically this Covid-19 outbreak has shone a light again on her work. Her work is now helping in the fight against Covid-19.

“What June did is so relevant now. Her methods are still being used and it is helping in the current outbreak.”