Michael Grant, who graduated from Guisborough Grammar School in 1959 became a senior professor in the University of Manchester where he established an international research profile in the biology and pathology of the structure and function of the matrix surrounding all mammalian cells.
He was born in Loftus, N Yorks into a working class family with a strong commitment to education. His father, Benjamin Ernest Grant (1916-93), attended Guisborough Grammar School (1927-32) but was hospitalised with appendicitis when he was due to take his School Certificate exams. As a consequence he left school without qualifications and took a post in the chemistry lab at Skinningrove Iron & Steel Works. He pursued qualifications at Night School to become the Analytical Chemist at Skinningrove and eventually progressed to become the Manager of the Steel Plant. Michael’s mother, Eileen Grant(nee Bradshaw), attended Saltburn High School and gained Higher School Certificates in Botany, French and English and trained as a governess until WW2 broke out in 1939.
With this family background Michael initially assumed his career might be found in the sciences and in 1959 he obtained Northern Universities GCE Advanced Level in mathematics, physics and chemistry. Also noteworthy was the 6th form training in “English appreciation “ provided by Mr Geoff Farrington which required weekly analysis and précis of prose passages and/or poems. Only in later life did the huge value of this training impact on his career in terms of publishing his research and many successful applications for grants to support his research programmes. The headmaster, Mr R J Routh, was instrumental in encouraging able students to apply for university admission. In spite of the fact that there was no biology taught in the GGS curriculum Michael was attracted to apply to the University of Manchester Institute of Science & Technology (UMIST was the Faculty of Technology in the Victoria University of Manchester) where a new Department of Biochemistry was being established in 1959. He graduated in 1962 and then undertook postgraduate training at the Botany School & Pembroke College, at the University of Oxford. His DPhil was awarded in Plant Sciences in 1966.
Michael met his wife, Margaret Rose Orrell from Bolton, in Oxford and they moved to Aberystwyth when he obtained a post in the Department of Biochemistry & Agricultural Biochemistry, University of Aberystwyth. In 1966 he moved back to the University of Manchester to accept a lectureship in Medical Biochemistry in a new department in the Medical Faculty. It was here he found himself tutoring the granddaughter of Mr Routh, his former headmaster of GGS. Michael was encouraged by Professor David Jackson, head of department to undertake research in the area of connective tissue biochemistry, specifically on collagen - the major protein in skin, bone, tendon, blood vessels, etc. In 1970 Michael joined the Department of Biochemistry in the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and worked with one of the leading USA research groups based in the Clinical Research Center in Philadelphia General Hospital. Here he made major contributions in the discovery of a new genetically distinct member of the collagen family of proteins. This collagen is found in the basement membranes underlying the cells lining small blood vessels and epithelial cells throughout the body. Changes in these structures in kidney, the retina, and blood capillaries are a critical feature of diabetes.
Michael returned to the University of Manchester in 1972 and embracing new techniques in protein chemistry and molecular biology he developed the leading UK research group studying the the biology of the extracellular matrix in health and disease. In 1995 he established with extensive financial support from the Wellcome Trust, the Wellcome Centre for Cell-Matrix Research in Manchester, recognised for over 20 years as the World’s leading research centre in this important area of biomedicine.
Appointed Professor of Medical Biochemistry in 1981, Michael became Head of Department of Biochemistry and subsequently played a key role in the development of a new Faculty of Biological Sciences comprising 4 departments arising from the merger of 12 departments in the Medical and Science Faculties. Administrative roles as Education Dean, Research Dean and Faculty Dean of Biological Sciences followed and in 2001 he was appointed as the University of ManchesterPro-Vice Chancellor for Research.
Michael retired in 2004 but continued in a part-time role for the next 14 years as Emeritus Professor of Medical Biochemistry, initially as Associate Vice-President (Research) and latterly as Professor of Assistance in helping staff raise funds to support strategic initiatives and individual research programmes. He finally retired in 2018 after 52 years as a member of staff at the University of Manchester.
In 2001 Professor Grant was made a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences and in 2007 he received the first Fell-Muir Award of the British Society of Matrix Biology, the Society’s highest award for outstanding contributions to matrix biology. In 2010 Michael received the University of Manchester’s highest accolade, the Medal of Honour.