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Lifetime Achievement Winners

Dr Archie Brain

Winner of a Medical Futures Lifetime Achievement Award

Archie Brain was born in Kobe, Japan, July 2 1942, to parents who travelled on behalf of the UK foreign office. At school, Archie is said to have had a reputation as an athlete and a poet with little or no scientific ability. Yet despite his teachers advise to focus on modern language, his fascination with physics and invention pushed him onto study medicine at Oxford. He graduated in 1970 from St Bartholomew's Hospital in London and started training as an anaesthetist. After a session of overseas posts he eventually ended up as a lecturer and anaesthetist in London. His intense desire to do things differently led him to design, built, and submit patent applications for 12 new devices, including one to assist cannulation of veins and one to prevent obstruction of anaesthetic trolleys by cables.

Since the 1920’s the method of putting patients to sleep during anaesthesia involved passing a tube through the vocal cords and into the lungs, which could be dangerous in certain patient groups and often left the patient with a sore throat. Archie devised a new way of doing things which involved an internal mask applied directly to the back of the throat. To perfect his idea, and like most inventors, he conducted his research in an adapted Essex bedroom. During the 1980’s, he studied airway anatomy and physiology, design, materials and its safe clinical use. At one stage in taking his invention into work, it is said that one of the hospital cleaners reported him for what appeared to be a sideline in manufacturing exotic condoms. The laryngeal mask airway (LMA), his 13th patent application, was granted in 1982.

In an almost classic tale of the crazy inventor, almost every expert and manufacturer rejected it. Archie, however, was convinced and unswerving in his vision, Archie persisted over a number of years and like many stories of medical success, it all changed following a chance meeting with a similarly visionary businessman, Robert Gaines-Cooper. In the late 1980’s, it finally achieved its large-scale production in both quality and quantity.

The company, LMA International, which manufactured and distributed the LMA was sold to Teleflex Inc for $276m in 2012.

“The LMA has been used on more than 300 million people around the world and Archie has undoubtedly changed emergency and elective airways management for the better” said Dr David Whitaker, former President of the Association of Anaesthetists.

In 2007, Dr Brain was recognised by his peers, endorsed jointly by the Royal College of Anaesthetists and the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain & Ireland and awarded a Medical Futures Lifetime Achievement Award for changing people's lives.

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