Murry was working with Victor Horsely, one of his instructors at University College Hospital. Horsely was studying the thyroid gland, a structure that until about twenty years earlier had no known function. Horsely had found that myxedema (myxoedema is the British spelling) in animals could be cured by grafts of animal thyroid glands. Murray suggested that human patients with myxedema could be treated with injected extracts of sheep thyroid glands. This treatment was successful and Murray published in 1891. Murray is generally given credit for this discovery even though a similar success was reported in Lisbon, Portugal in 1890.
The thyroid gland, the largest endocrine gland in the human body, is located in the throat. It secretes hormones that affect how the quickly the body uses energy, synthesizes proteins, and how sensitive the body is to other hormones, affecting just about every cell in the body. Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland does not secrete enough of its hormones to maintain normal body functions and symptoms include, among others, myxedema, an increased amount of connective tissue in the skin and dermal edema (puffy skin). Today hypothyroidism is treated by taking synthetic or animal thyroid hormones orally.
After his discovery there was a renewed interest in myxedema and cretinism and Murray wrote on both subjects. His discovery is one of the first examples of hormone replacement therapy and he is regarded as one of the founders of endocrinology, the study of hormones and hormone secreting organs. For his work Murray received many honors, including F.R.C.P. in 1898, Goulstonian lecturer in 1899 and Bradshaw lecturer in 1905. He became professor of medicine at Manchester University 1908, only the second time that someone from outside had been brought in. His tenure was interrupted by World War I, where he served as a consulting physician to the forces in Italy and he retired in 1925, at the age of sixty.
Murry died on September 21, 1939
Asherson, Geoffrey L.; The New Dictionary of National Biography, found online at www.dur.ac.uk
Brockbank, William;The Honorary Medical Staff of The Manchester Royal Infirmary 1830-1948; Manchester University Press; 1965
Pearce, J M S;Myxoedema and Sir William Withey Gull (1816-1890); Journal of Neurosurgery and Psychiatry (2006) 77:639