The remarkable Hull man who played himself in Oscar-nominated film

The memorial to Don Suddaby in Suddaby Close in Hull and (inset) a screenshot of him in Lorenzo's Oil 1992
-Credit: (Image: Hull Live)


A man with a street named after him in east Hull is at the centre of a remarkable true story made into an Oscar-nominated film.

Don Suddaby was a scientist working at Croda International in Snaith in the 1980s when the parents of a boy dying from a rare disease begged him for help. They needed a chemist to formulate a special oil they believed would treat their son, Lorenzo Odone, prolonging his life.

Augusto and Michaela Odone, who were living in the United States, had contacted more than 100 chemical companies from all over the world to help. But most scientists were sceptical and believed Lorenzo's adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD) was a death sentence and couldn't possibly be treated, let alone with an oil that had never been tested on humans.

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The Odones had no background in science and had carried out their own research after Lorenzo's devastating diagnosis with ALD, a genetic condition leading to disability and death that only seriously affects boys. Based on a scientific study performed on cultured cells, they believed the oil could be the miracle they were looking for.

Out of everyone the Odones contacted, Croda International was the only company to respond. Don Suddaby, aged in his seventies at the time, agreed to lead the project and was said to have worked around the clock with his team creating and refining the product that became known as "Lorenzo's Oil".

By the time the oil was finished, Lorenzo had suffered severe nerve damage due to ALD but his parents believed the oil halted the progression of the disease. Despite children normally living just a couple of years after a diagnosis of ALD in the 1980s, Lorenzo lived to age 30 and died on May 30, 2008.

In 1992, George Miller (known for the Mad Max franchise) directed the film Lorenzo's Oil which was nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Actress for Susan Sarandon who played Michaela Odone and Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen for George Miller and Nick Enright.

Don Suddaby, then quite elderly, had been asked to play himself in the film and featured in later scenes that showed him working tirelessly to formulate and improve the oil. He sadly died one year after its release, in 1993.

His heroic work is remembered in Hull with a plaque and a street named after him, Suddaby Close, near Southcoates Avenue in east Hull. It adjoins Lorenzo Way, in tribute to the boy who he was inspired to help.

The all and stone plaque built in Suddaby Close in 1994 reads: "Suddaby Park. In memory of Mr Don Suddaby the Hull research chemist whose development of Lorenzo's Oil received international acclaim."

At the time, Lorenzo's Oil was also believed to have halted the progression of ALD in other children but its use today is controversial due to a lack of agreement on its effectiveness in medical trials. According to Great Ormond Street Hospital, Lorenzo’s oil can "probably slow down (but, sadly, not halt) the progression of symptoms if used from before or soon after symptoms develop".