Norman Gregg

Norman Gregg

Sir Norman McAlister Gregg, MC (7 March 1892 – 27 July 1966) was an Australian ophthalmologist, who discovered that rubella suffered by a pregnant woman could cause birth defects in her child (congenital rubella syndrome).[1]


Early life and education

Dr. Gregg (left) receiving an honorary Doctor of Science degree from the University of Sydney in 1952.

Gregg was born on 7 March 1892 in Burwood, a suburb of Sydney. He was educated at Homebush and Sydney Grammar School, and then studied medicine at the University of Sydney, graduating with a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery and first class honours in 1915.[2]

During his education, Gregg was an active and capable sportsman, playing cricket, tennis, baseball, swimming and ice hockey at university. From 1913 to 1914, he represented New South Wales in cricket three times[3], and once in tennis. Had it not been for the outbreak of World War I, Gregg would have qualified for the Australian Davis Cup team.[2]

Military career

After completing his medical degree, Gregg travelled to England, where he was commissioned as a temporary lieutenant in the Royal Army Medical Corps of the British Army on 23 March 1915.[4] He served on the Western Front during World War I attached to the East Yorkshire Regiment's 17th Battalion, and later with the 52nd Field Ambulance.[2] Promoted temporary captain on 23 March 1916, he was an acting major for just over a month in 1919, was wounded in the field, and was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry on 24 September 1918.[2][5][6][7][8][9] He left the army on 7 March 1920, retaining the rank of captain.[10]

The citation for his MC read:

T./Capt. Norman McAlister Gregg, M.B., R.A.M.C.

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during a raid. He untiringly attended to the wounded under heavy enemy fire until the last man was cleared, and showed great coolness and devotion to duty. He worked persistently throughout the raid in the open, and searched for any wounded that

might have been overlooked. He behaved splendidly.[6]

Medical career

Returning to Australia, Gregg was appointed resident medical officer at Sydney's Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPA). He returned to England to study ophthalmology, gaining a diploma of ophthalmic medicine and surgery after training at Moorfields Eye Hospital and Royal Westminster Ophthalmic Hospital in London, and the Birmingham and Midland Counties Eye Hospital.[2]

Gregg returned to Sydney, where he set up a practice in 1923. That same year he was appointed ophthalmic surgeon at RPA, and the same post at the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children from 1925. In 1950 he was made a consultant at the Royal Alexandra, and in 1952 at the RPA.[2]

Congenital rubella syndrome

When World War II began, Gregg was a paediatric ophthalmologist, at a time when most doctors had joined the army and he was one of few eye doctors in Sydney. Gregg noticed a high incidence of congenital cataracts in infants arriving at his surgery – two to three times the normal rate that would be expected from hereditary factors. He overheard a conversation between several mothers whose babies had cataracts, in which they mentioned that they had suffered from German measles (rubella) during pregnancy.[11] Investigating the medical records of children with similar conditions, Gregg discovered that out of 78 affected children, 68 had been exposed to rubella in utero. There had been an outbreak of rubella and meningitis in Australian army camps in 1941, which had been transmitted to the wider community when the men returned to their families.[12]

On 15 October 1941, Gregg delivered a paper, Congenital Cataract following German Measles in the Mother, to the Ophthalmological Society of Australia in Melbourne which published it in its journal, Transactions. Following press coverage of his paper, Gregg was contacted by two mothers who had contracted rubella, and whose children suffered from deafness, and he subsequently issued a further paper detailing Further Observations on Congenital Defects in Infants following Maternal Rubella.[2]

Whilst Gregg's findings were met with praise in Australia, internationally his peers were not so convinced. British medical journal The Lancet wrote that he had failed to adequately prove his case, and it was not until Professor Oliver Lancaster of the University of Sydney proved the association between the rubella virus and congenital syndromes in infants was significant, that his research was accepted around the world.[12]



  1. ^ Gregg, Norman McAlister (1892 - 1966), Bright Sparcs (Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, University of Melbourne), 30 June 1997.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Paul A. L. Lancaster, Gregg, Sir Norman McAlister (1892 - 1966), Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, Melbourne University Press, 1996, pp 325-327.
  3. ^ Norman Gregg (Australia), Cricinfo.
  4. ^ London Gazette: no. 29177. p. 5211. 1 June 1915. Retrieved 2008-07-28. Lieutenant
  5. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 29542. p. 3789. 7 April 1916. Retrieved 2008-07-28. Captain
  6. ^ a b London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30915. p. 11296. 20 September 1918. Retrieved 2008-07-28. Military Cross
  7. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 31344. pp. 6189–6190. 16 May 1919. Retrieved 2008-07-28. Acting major
  8. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 31826. p. 3392. 16 March 1920. Retrieved 2008-07-28. Relinquishment of acting majority
  9. ^ Dunn, P.M.: Perinatal lessons from the past: Sir Norman Gregg, ChM, MC, of Sydney (1892–1966) and rubella embryopathy, Archives of Disease in Childhood - Fetal and Neonatal Edition, 2007.
  10. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 31815. p. 2890. 5 March 1920. Retrieved 2008-07-28. Relinquishment of commission
  11. ^ De Quadros, Ciro A. (2004). Vaccines: Preventing Disease and Protecting Health. World Health Organization. pp. p. 53. ISBN 9275115966. 
  12. ^ a b Manteuil-Brutlag, Simone: Sir Norman McAllister Gregg, Stanford University.
  13. ^ Awards: James Cook Medal, Royal Society of New South Wales.
  14. ^ Advisory Honorary Awards, University of Sydney.
  15. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 39734. p. 39. 30 December 1952. Retrieved 2008-07-28. Knighthood
  16. ^ London Gazette: no. 39786. p. 1103. 24 February 1953. Retrieved 2008-07-28. Accolade
  17. ^ GREGG, Norman McAlister, It's an Honour (Australian Government honours database).
  18. ^ Interview with Sir Norman Gregg, National Library of Australia.
  19. ^ 125 years of care: Historical Names, Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children, 5 May 2005.

External links

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