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Professor James Samuel Risien Russell | Black History Month

As part of our series for Black History Month, we’re featuring Professor James Samuel Risien Russell whose research contributed to our understanding of the part of the brain that affects motor control

Many of the patients and lots of the children and young people that come to us have neurological conditions. We care for people with, amongst other things, Parkinson’s Disease and Motor Neurone Disease. A lot of the children and young people who come to us for short breaks and respite have limited motor control.

James Samuel Risien Russell was born in 1863 in Guyana. His father was a Scottish water engineer and sugar plantation owner and his mother was of African descent. He was sent to Scotland at the age of 14 to continue his education and went on to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh, qualifiying for the in 1891. He then went on to work and continue studying in London, Paris and Berlin. In the late 1890s he became a full physician and professor.

In 1900, along with two colleagues, Russell wrote the pioneering description of the degeneration of the spinal cord and of Tay-Sachs disease which in it’s most common form affects infants and destroys nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. He was the author or co-author of a number of research articles on neurological disease and in 1910 was the vice-president of the Section of Psychological Medicine and Neurology at the annual meeting of the British Medical Association.

Russell also served as a Captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps from 1908 to 1918 and became one of the leading experts on "shell shock" and "neurasthenia". He also set up his own private practice in London specialising in mental disorders. He came into conflict with psychiatrist due to his belief that patients with psychosis should not be admitted to asylums but be treated at home with their families.

James Samuel Risien Russell died, aged 75, in his Wimpole Street consulting rooms in March 1939.

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