Navigation links at the bottom of this page
A Dukie seeks to prevent MRSA
Ben Childs
Testimony to the skill of teacher Don Belcher, who taught biology and remained a teacher at the School for 35 years, is the number of Dukies who followed careers in science. Among them, Professor Timothy Foster of Trinity College, Dublin, a member of the Royal Irish Academy, is an outstanding example. Tim Foster is today an internationally recognised authority on microbiological research into MRSA. In time, one hopes, his research might contribute to world health in saving countless lives. Further, there is a distinct possibility that his work will prevent mastitis in farm animals and Strangles in horses, an accomplishment that will be of inestimable benefit to livestock farmers and equestrians everywhere.
     Scientific research is essential to the progress of world health and the quality of living of humankind. Its significance cannot be underestimated and, in his field of microbiological research, Tim Foster is a major contributor. Regardless of the eventual outcome of his research, his contribution to understanding the nature of Staphylococcus aureus, the organism resistant to antibiotics known as MRSA is invaluable.
      Tim Foster attended the Duke of York's Royal Military School from 1958 until 1965 during which time he was a member of Clive House. He became a school prefect and passed his A Levels with what he would admit were mediocre results, preferring, he admits, rugby and cricket to the classroom. For the record, he achieved an A in Biology, a C in Chemistry and an E in Physics. It will therefore come as no surprise that every application he made to the leading universities to read medicine, including Trinity, was rejected. Trinity College, however, offered him a place to read biology, which he accepted and moved to Dublin. With hindsight, it may be deduced that the Trinity selection committee perhaps recognised an intellectually-gifted mind in taking note that his A level grades read 'ACE'.
    Tim's father had enlisted as a private in the Royal Corps of Signals (generally referred to as 'the Royal Signals') in 1938. His unit was part of the British Expeditionary Force (the BEF) involved in the disastrous retreat before the German Blitzkrieg to Dunkirk. He was among the fortunate ones to be evacuated (see Pat Kirwan's Retreat to Dunkirk).
    After Dunkirk, Private Foster was posted to India where he attended the Bangalore OCTU (Officer Cadet Training Unit) and successfully emerged a commissioned officer. Still in the R Signals, he served in the Burma campaign and was unfortunate enough to contract encephalitis, a viral infection that causes an acute inflammation of the brain. Captain Foster as he was by then was evacuated from Burma to a hospital in India for treatment and to recover.
     During his convalescence he came under the care of a Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps (QARANC) sister, Sister Westwood, who grew up at Goodwood near Chichester where her father was a foreman of one of the farms on the Duke of Richmond's estate. She did her nursing training at Chichester while
Prefect Tim Foster c1965

Chichester while the Battle of Britain was taking place and helped in nursing pilots and other RAF personnel suffering from severe burns and other injuries. Before being posted to India, she served in North Africa, Sicily and Italy. She met Captain Foster while he was convalescing. The disease had left him partially paralyzed. Sister Westwood was demobilized in 1946 at the end of the war with Japan and, returning to the UK, she immediately married Captain Foster who had been returned to the UK and was still convalescing. It was a strange time; they hardly knew one another and had only been on one 'date' in India. Captain Foster's elder brother the Rev. Ralph Foster, later Vicar of Worksop Priory, performed the marriage ceremony.
     Following their marriage, they had three children of whom the first, Timothy Foster, was born in 1947. After his

Professor Timothy Foster, Professor of Molecular Microbiology, Trinity College
demobilisation in 1946, Captain Foster obtained work as a civil servant working for the Ministry of Pensions while his wife stayed at home to take care of the growing family. She did not work again until after her husband's death from a brain tumour in 1969. The tumour's possible connection to encephalitis was sufficient grounds for Tim's mother to be awarded a widow's pension. She, however, returned to a working life as the superintendent of a nursing home in Ipswich where she remained until she reached retirement age.
     Tim had two siblings, a brother and sister. Changes in the admissions criteria for the Duke of York's School, specifically the length of an applicant's parent's or parents' service in the armed forces, Tim was the only one of the Foster boys admitted. Nevertheless, and with particular significance considering the current changes to the Duke of York's and the MOD's continuity of education allowance, all three children were educated under the sponsorship of the British armed forces.
     Since leaving school and university, Tim has enjoyed considerable success in the world of academic research. He is at present Professor of Molecular Microbiology at Trinity College, Dublin. He met his wife Ada during his last year at Trinity. They were married in 1972 while she was still a student studying Dentistry at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. Ada is today a specialist prosthodontist running her own, small private practice. The Fosters have two off-spring: their daughter Clair is a nurse (it must be in her genetic make-up) while their son is on the University of Nottingham's campus in Ningbo near Shanghai in China, tutoring in academic English.
     Tim Foster received his bachelor degree at Trinity and his doctorate in microbiology at Bristol University. He was at Bristol at the same time as Professor Arthur Buller, a Dukie of an earlier era, Kitchener House (1933 to 1940). At Bristol University, Arthur Buller was Professor of Physiology.
Following his doctorate in microbiology, Tim returned to Trinity to take up a lectureship and do research. He took a year's sabbatical in 1978 when he was awarded a Fogarty Fellowship at Harvard for a year's research to learn about the emerging techniques of molecular microbiology. Harvard was one of several universities in the USA where pioneering work was being performed, which revolutionized the way DNA could be manipulated and analyzed. Tim was one of the first to apply the technology to study Staphylococcus aureus, (MRSA) that causes such troublesome and difficult-to-cope-with infectious outbreaks in hospitals.
  Back in Trinity College, for the past 15 years, Tim has lead a research group of between 10 and 15 people; the size of the group varies according to the availability of funds from grants. His work has led to his winning a fellowship at Trinity. In 1986 he was awarded an associate professorship and, in 1997, he was awarded a personal chair, the term of reference for promotion to a full and permanent professorship.
     He has earned a wide reputation for work in his field and is regarded as a leading authority on the MRSA disease. A leading pharmaceutical company is presently evaluating his vaccine with the prospect of clinical development to follow and vaccine that will be suitable for use in humans. This would be a significant achievement to world health. Professor Foster likes to point out the difference between a vaccine and an antibiotic, which the public do not easily understand. A vaccine, he says, prevents an infection; an antibiotic cures it.
     Tim Foster is certainly not alone in his work. Scientists
Tim Foster with his family: his wife, Ada, and son, David, standing, daughter Claire seated
worldwide are working to prevent MRSA, yet he is recognized among them for his study of proteins from the surface of bacterial cells to understand the biological processes that allow the Staphylococcus aureus bacterium to colonise the human host and cause the invasive infections that sometimes result.
     In 2010, the Republic of Ireland recognised his work and elected him a Member of the Royal Irish Academy, the Republic's highest academic award. Tim is modest about his work, but colleagues recognize his achievements. There is no doubt that further international recognition will in all likelihood follow. Whether his work leads to a vaccine for MSRA or not, his efforts help society's further understanding of the super bug.
     In addition to his research, Tim readily entertains visitors to Dublin and willingly helps scholars in other fields to pursue their research. They find a welcome reception and assistance in making contacts when doing research. For example, Mr. Howard Clarke, a former principal of a sixth form College researching the history of the Hibernian Society and the school it founded, the Royal Hibernian Military School (1765-1924), found himself in the hospitable hands of Tim Foster, who guided him in the right direction for his further research.

Delta Tech Systems Inc
Duke of York's Royal Military School
Royal Hibernian Military School
Reminiscences of a Queen's Army  Schoolmistress
World War I letters and Reports
Books and Militaria
Wellington on Waterloo
Related Links

© A. W. Cockerill 2011

Site Map    Contact me