Sir David Weatherall, fondly called ‘Prof’ by those who knew him, was a general physician, a haematologist and clinician scientist whose research focused on the genetics of blood disorders affecting haemoglobin, such as thalassaemia and sickle cell disease. Together with his long-standing scientific colleague John Clegg, David developed new methods for measuring the synthesis of the alpha and beta chains of Haemoglobin, providing the first clear evidence of how thalassaemia arises. David’s work made it possible to detect these common genetic disorders early in pregnancy, enabling antenatal diagnosis.
His characterisation of the mutations causing thalassaemia enabled numerous families to be offered genetic counselling and led to the eradication of thalassaemia in some parts of the world. His work sparked the revolution in the application of molecular biology to all aspects of clinical medicine starting over 30 years ago when he established the first Institute of Molecular Medicine in the UK, based at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, and part of the University of Oxford.