Born:

June 20, 1908

(Belmont, Ontario)

Died:

May 4, 1995

Education:

MD, University of Western Ontario (1933)
MSc, University of Toronto (1938)

Awards & Honours:

1972: Fellow of the Royal Society of London

1968: Officer of the Order of Canada

See All Awards
Picture of Murray Barr, MD

Discovered an important cell structure now known as the Barr body

Portrait of Murray Barr

A builder of the field of human cytogenetics

Sometimes, a big discovery comes from a microscopic level. When Drs. Murray Barr and E.G. Bertram published an article in Nature regarding their findings of a sex chromatin body, they inspired a whole new era in research and diagnosis of genetic disorders. This discovery, later referred to as the Barr body, gave way to the discipline of genetics and established the foundation for human cytogenetics.

Key Facts

Was the first to establish a link between sex chromosome abnormalities and human disease

His textbook, The Human Nervous System, became a worldwide standard for neuroanatomy, and was translated into numerous different languages

Influenced a generation of medical students as a devoted and captivating neuroanatomy professor

Nurtured an interest in the history of medicine and published A Century of Medicine at Western

Awarded seven honorary degrees

Professional timeline

Impact on lives today

Dr. Barr’s investigations into certain chromosome defects led to a greater understanding of many congenital diseases including Down’s, Klinefelter’s and Turner syndromes, significantly improving their diagnosis and treatment. Similarly, Barr’s research in cytogenetics has contributed to our knowledge of chromosomal changes, which can help physicians to diagnosis some types of cancer. Barr also helped to advance the field of genomic research in Canada, which remains a vibrant field of study today. For example, the Institute of Genetics, one of CIHR’s virtual institutes, offers support to a wide range of research on topics including the interaction of genes with physical and social environments.

Picture of Murray Barr, MD

1998

  • Murray Barr posthumously inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame

    Hull, Québec

  • Authored by Dr. Murray Barr, the first edition of "The Human Nervous System" was published

    Health and Medical Education & Training

    By 1983, the textbook was already in its 4th edition.

  • With Dr. K.L. Moore, Dr. Barr developed the buccal smear test, a non-invasive method of gathering human cells from the lining of the mouth for genetic testing

    Cells, Genetics & Genomics

    In combination with karyotyping, it allowed scientists to identify individuals with an abnormal number of sex chromosome bodies, furthering diagnosis and treatment of congenital diseases.

  • Image of Barr bodies under microscope

    Drs. Barr and Bertram made a ground-breaking discovery later referred to as the Barr body

    Cells, Genetics & Genomics

    They identified a dense mass of chromatin (material containing the genetic code) present only in female nerve cells.

  • Soon after the war, Barr returned to Western University

    He remained at Western until his retirement in 1977.

  • Canada went to war, and so did Barr

    He served as a distinguished Wing Commander with the Royal Canadian Air Force.

  • Experiencing the challenges of running of medical practice during the Depression, Barr pursued a master’s degree in science

    At the University of Toronto, his research focused on the synaptic end-builds of motor neurons.

  • Barr graduated from medical school at the University of Western Ontario

    He then sought further training with a general internship at Hamot Hospital in Erie, Pennsylvania.

1933

The legacy of the Barr body and his devotion to teaching live on.