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Pioneering hematologist wins Wallace H. Coulter Award


Washington, DC – The 2013 Wallace H. Coulter Award for Lifetime Achievement in Hematology, the highest honour of the American Society of Hematology, is being presented to Professor Sir David Weatherall, MD, of the University of Oxford for his more than 50-year career in hematology. His career has combined seminal discoveries, visionary translational research leadership, and a passion for global health initiatives that have together helped improve clinical care for thousands throughout the developing world.

A pioneer in the field, Sir David has paved the way for other physicians and scientists in refining the understanding of inherited blood disorders, particularly thalassemias and tropical diseases. He began his career in 1962 after graduating with his medical degree from the University of Liverpool. After medical school, he went on serve in the British Army, receiving an assignment in the children’s ward of a British military hospital in Singapore, where, after observing the plight of children with thalassemia, he began to develop a keen interest in the inherited disease.

He sought additional training and research experience in the United States at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. In a groundbreaking 1965 report, Sir David and colleague John Clegg identified imbalanced globin chain production as the cause of thalassemia, a discovery that was essential to developing improved treatments and designing disease prevention efforts at both the clinical and population levels. Following this important observation, Sir David conducted additional investigations yielding improvements in prenatal diagnoses and iron chelation therapy. He also studied the role of thalassemia trait and sickle cell trait in ameliorating the symptoms of malaria. In 2002, he wrote a report on the application of genomics to global health for the World Health Organization. Throughout his career, Sir David’s research has exemplified the power of a genetic and molecular approach to the investigation of human inherited diseases. His thalassemia work demonstrates the complexity of genotype-phenotype correlations and that an understanding of the molecular and cellular underpinnings of human disease is an essential step in developing better treatments.

Inspired by his own experience combining clinical care and research, Sir David began to see opportunity for young clinicians and scientists to train together in a collaborative environment, a fusion of disciplines that had not yet been employed elsewhere in Europe, and in 1989 established Oxford University’s Institute of Molecular Medicine, which is now known as the MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine.

He is the author of 14 books and hundreds of journal articles, and is credited with creating and editing the Oxford Textbook of Medicine, now in its fifth edition. In 1992 he assumed his current role of Regius Professor of Medicine Emeritus at the University of Oxford. Today Sir David continues to spread awareness about thalassemias around the world.

“For five decades Professor Sir David Weatherall has worked tirelessly as a physician, scientist, teacher, and statesman, and is a world-renowned leader in the field of hematology,” said ASH President Janis L. Abkowitz, MD. “His transformative work unveiling the molecular basis of inherited hematologic disorders has established him as a role model with a legacy that will endure for future generations of hematologists.”

The award will be presented on December 8, during the 55th ASH Annual Meeting and Exposition in New Orleans.