Martin Roth


Honorary Degree (1993)
Doctor of Science
Location: Indianapolis
Presenter: Thomas Ehrlich


During his distinguished career, Sir Martin Roth laid the foundations for studying the psychiatry of old age and contributed to our understanding of the relationship between depressive illness and anxiety disorders. He is regarded as a pioneer in finding the neurological basis for panic disorder. In recent years, he has significantly advanced research in Alzheimer's disease. His scholarly contributions have earned him honors worldwide, including a knighthood, conferred by Queen Elizabeth II in 1972.

Martin Roth completed his medical studies at London University with a Doctor of Medicine in 1945 and a Diploma in Psychological Medicine in 1949. By 1956, he was head of the Department of Psychological Medicine at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where he remained until 1977, when he became professor of psychiatry and head of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge. His observations on the natural history of different mental disorders in later life formed the basis for classifying these disorders and became the starting point for modern geriatric psychiatry. Before his work, accurate diagnoses of psychiatric disorders in the elderly scarcely existed; therefore, no treatments were tried.

From the very beginning of his career, Professor Roth sought to explore the borders between neurology and psychiatry. His papers in the 1950s on gerontopsychiatry are now classics in the field. In the 1960s, his studies of the relationship between clinical observations of patients during life and pathological changes in the cerebrum after death reestablished the validity of Alois Alzheimer's thinking as put forth in a paper published in 1907. Although in the intervening 60 years Alzheimer's ideas had come to be regarded as nonspecific and unimportant, precise modern techniques of neuroanatomy, neuropathology, neurochemistry, and molecular biology rendered them again suitable for discussion in medical circles.

Professor Roth's interest in gerontopsychiatry has never waned. He has organized research teams of the highest quality and competence. He has studied gerontopsychiatric disorders from many aspects: clinical, psychological, social, genetic, and physiological. His writings have even extended to more general issues in psychiatry, such as the social aspects of violence. His mastery of words and knowledge of foreign languages have contributed to enthusiastic and stimulating lectures that have impressed students, the lay public, and experts alike.

In 1990, because of his continuing distinction and productivity in the field, Professor Roth was a Fellow at the Indiana University Institute for Advanced Study, where he continued some of his work on Alzheimer's disease. During that same year, he was a visiting professor of medicine at the IU School of Medicine. Among his other important awards are the International Anna Monika First Prize for research into depressive and related disorders (1978) and the Kraepelin Gold Medal for psychiatric research (1986). The Kraepelin Gold Medal, established in 1926, is Germany's highest award in psychiatry and is awarded at irregular intervals to particularly eminent psychiatrists. Professor Roth was only the 12th recipient and the first British scientist to be so honored.