Distinguished clinician, scientist, and supporter of Humanism
Born in 1933 and educated at Calday Grange Grammar School and the University of Liverpool, Sir David Weatherall became one of Britain’s most distinguished medical scientists. He is Regius Professor of Medicine Emeritus and retired Honorary Director of the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine at the University of Oxford. In 2006 he was chair and author of the Weatherall Report, commissioned by the Academy of Medical Sciences, Royal Society, Medical Research Council and Wellcome Trust, to review the scientific case for non-human primate research. He said of his conclusions: “There is a scientific case for careful, well-monitored and meticulously regulated non-human primate research, at least for the foreseeable future, provided it is the only way of solving important scientific or medical questions. At this moment in time, if we were to take [primate research] away tomorrow, there would be certain areas of science which I think might suffer very greatly.”
Sir David had an outstanding career in medical research, with particular interests in haematology and genetics and the application of such research, particularly in the developing world. Through over 700 publications and his work as senior editor of the Oxford Textbook of Medicine his influence extended far beyond Britain and his research has been applied to the development of disease prevention, control and alleviation programmes throughout the world. His research on thalassaemia provided the basis for ante-natal diagnosis and genetic counselling aimed at preventing the abnormalities and for improvements to the clinical management of inherited blood disorders. He has drawn global attention to the challenge of caring for the numbers of thalassaemia sufferers who now survive beyond childhood.
He was appointed Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University in 1992. In 1989 he established Oxford University’s Institute of Molecular Medicine to foster research in molecular and cell biology with direct application to the study of human disease, which now houses around four hundred scientists, all working on important human diseases ranging from Cancer to AIDS. In 2000 the Institute was renamed the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine. He was also Honorary Director of the MRC Molecular Haematology Unit and Honorary Consultant Physician to the Oxford District Health Authority and served as a Wellcome Trustee for 10 years until his retirement in 2000
Since his retirement he has remained active in applying the findings of medical research to the developing world, particularly in the Far East and Sri Lanka, and has worked with the US National Institute of Health on the development of its international programmes. When he retired as Governor of the Wellcome Trust in 2000, instead of a farewell party Sir David chose to put the money towards equipping a new hospital in Sri Lanka dedicated to the treatment of thalassaemia. In 2002 he became Chancellor of Keele University, where he helped to set up a new School of Medicine.
Sir David was one of the signatories to a letter supporting a holiday on Charles’ Darwin’s birthday, published in The Times on February 12, 2003, and also sent to the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary. In July 2009 he joined other eminent scientists and educators calling for vital changes to the proposed science curriculum for primary schools in England in a letter to the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.
2 photos of Sir David from the National Portrait Gallery. The NPG describes David Weatherall “somebody who has thought deeply about the place of medicine and doctors in society as a whole”.