A GREENOCK man who went on to become one of Britain’s leading prostate cancer experts has retired after a long and distinguished career.

Professor Norman Maitland, 67, who was born in Larkfield Hospital in September 1952, was educated at Greenock Academy.

He left the area in 1974 at the age of 22 to study for a PhD in cancer studies at Birmingham University and went on to enjoy a very successful career which has seen him make vital breakthroughs in the battle against the disease.

At the age of 67 he has retired from his post at the University of York but has been elected as Emeritus Professor in molecular biology which means that he will continue to read and write about science and prostate cancer.

He says he is also looking forward to pursuing other interests in his retirement.

Norman said: “I have three aims for my retirement - golf, grandchildren and gardening.

"I never had enough time for any of them over the last 45 years and after a serious illness last year I also aim to live for a long time.”

In 1991 Professor Maitland moved to the University of York to set up a new research team on prostate cancer, which closed at the end of August after 28 years.

During his time there he became one of the first researchers to show that cancers are composed of many different types of cells.

This allowed his team to discover that stem cells in a prostate tumour allow cancer to return because they are resistant to common treatments such as radiotherapy.

Prof Maitland and his team also found a way to stop the spread of the disease after they discovered how a protein in bone marrow acts like a ‘magnetic docking station' helping cells grow and spread.

Understanding this mechanism allowed Prof Maitland and his colleagues to learn how to block this signal in cancer cells, disabling them and preventing them from multiplying around the body.

They also recently found a way to distinguish between fatal and manageable prostate cancer.

Professor Maitland said: “If implemented in the clinic, this could prevent over-treatment, and would focus drugs on the men who will most require aggressive treatment."

As he looks to the future, Norman says one of the things he will miss most about his job is the people he has worked with over the years.

He said: “I will miss the teamwork, clever and enthusiastic undergraduates, and the excitement of a discovery but I will not miss the increasing administrative load and over-regulation.

“I will miss that every day was different and the sense of discovery, when you show something that nobody had seen before.

"It is just amazing and I will miss the wonderful feeling when one of your students ‘gets it’ - the discovery moment - and might then become addicted to science, just like me in the 1970s.”

Professor Maitland has trained more than 60 PhD, MD and MSc students and numerous undergraduate and interns, many of whom now occupy senior scientific and clinical posts in the UK and abroad.

He said: “When I attend prostate cancer support group meetings I marvel at the determination and optimism of men with this potentially life-threatening disease.

"Their thanks is worth any number of awards but I always regret that I did not fulfil my stated aim when I arrived in York in 1991 of finding a lasting treatment for all men with prostate cancer.

“I hope that the answer lies with the many PhD’s I have trained and supervised over the years."