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Sir Roger Bannister: pioneer of the cardiovascular autonomic nervous system

02 March 2021
Volume 11 · Issue 1


In this new four-part 2021 Neurocardiology series, Helen Cowan looks at Sir Roger Bannister's life and some of his important findings with regards to cardiovascular disorders of the autonomic nervous system.

From syncope to orthostatic hypertension, stress cardiomyopathy to autonomic dysreflexia, cardiovascular disorders of the autonomic nervous system are manifold and complex. Yet the autonomic nervous system was for a long time a relatively neglected area of research—so much so, that Sir George Pickering in the last century described a review of autonomic function as ‘no more than an overture. The main body of the work is to come’ (Mathias and Bannister, 1999).

Sir Roger Bannister, a one-time student of Sir George, added much to that body of work through his lifetime studies of the autonomic nervous system (though he acknowledges that the human body remains ‘millennia ahead of the physiologist’) (Bannister, 2014). In 2005, he was presented with the American Academy of Neurology's first ‘lifetime achievement award’ for his work on autonomic disorders, having written over 80 original articles on the subject. Working in partnership with Professor Christopher Mathias, Bannister's training as a physiologist and neurologist neatly complemented Mathias' expertise in cardiovascular medicine. In 2013, the fifth edition of their joint textbook, Autonomic Failure was published and it is read in medical libraries around the world (Mathias and Bannister, 2013). The Clinical Autonomic Research Society, established by Bannister, now has counterparts in America, Canada, Australia, France, Italy and Japan.

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