In the late 1950s, David Weatherall, a Medical Officer on National Service with the RAMC, met Jaspir Thapa, daughter of a Gurkha soldier, in the children’s ward of the British Military Hospital, Singapore. Jaspir was profoundly anaemic and being kept alive by blood transfusions. Weatherall studied the child and diagnosed her illness as thalassaemia. Thus began a distinguished research career.
The first portion of the archive of Professor Sir David Weatherall, molecular geneticist and Oxford Regius Professor of Medicine from 1992 to 2000, has been acquired by the Bodleian Library through an initiative of the Saving Oxford Medicine project. Sir David’s groundbreaking work on thalassaemia, a set of inherited blood disorders that affect the body’s ability to create red blood cells, has resulted in improved clinical treatment of the disease and the introduction of programmes for its management, particularly in developing countries. Largely due to him, Oxford University is recognised as a world leader in global health. Under his leadership, an Institute of Molecular Medicine was established at the University in 1989, renamed the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine on his retirement in 2000. Its scientists work on areas of molecular and cell biology that can improve the understanding and treatment of diseases such as cancer and HIV/AIDS.
|Sir David with patients at a clinic in Sri Lanka|
The sections of the archive now acquired include Sir David’s reminiscences of his time in Singapore and Malaya in 1959-61, correspondence regarding the setting up of the Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Programme at Mahidol University, Bangkok, in the late 1970s; papers relating to the development of the Institute of Molecular Medicine, beginning with Sir David’s initial proposal in 1983; papers relating to his evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology in the 1980s and 1990s, and to his roles as WHO consultant and lead writer of its Advisory Committee on Health Research report ‘Genomics and World Health’, 2002, and chair of the 2006 working group on the use of non-human primates in research. There is also material relating to his publications and contributions to conferences, meetings and medical debates, and his many appointments, honours and awards. Additions to these in due course will be Sir David’s scientific correspondence and laboratory records.
The archive will be catalogued before being made available to researchers in the Special Collections Reading Room.Listen to some of Sir David’s stories at: