Lives of the fellows

Peter Bernard Allen Kernoff

b.8 March 1944 d.27 February 2006
MB BS Lond(1967) MD(1974) MRCP(1975) MRCPath(1984) FRCP(1987)

Peter Kernoff was a consultant haematologist and director of the Katharine Dormandy haemophilia centre and haemostasis unit at the Royal Free Hospital, London. He was born in Bushey, Hertfordshire, the son of Bernard Kernoff, a consultant physician at the Manor House Hospital in north London, and Margaret Pirie Kernoff née Allan, who was also a physician. He was educated at the City of London School, and then went on to study medicine at the London Hospital Medical School.

Following house posts in Barnet, he became a research fellow at the Oxford Haemophilia Centre. While at Oxford Kernoff published the first description of von Willebrand’s disease, which results from a deficiency in the protein von Willebrand factor. His work led to later studies that elucidated the crucial role von Willebrand factor plays in blood clotting.

From 1974 to 1977 he was a physician at Leeds General Infirmary and taught at Leeds Medical School. He then went to New York, as an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University. After a year he was headhunted by the Royal Free Hospital. Katharine Dormandy [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.157], director of the haemophilia centre at the hospital, wanted Kernoff to succeed her. He was appointed in 1978.

He had a talent for organisation. In 1980 Kernoff had the foresight to computerise the patient records in the department. Two years earlier he had established a bank of serum samples from patients treated with clotting factor concentrate, which enabled epidemiological research on hepatitis and HIV, and provided early information on the prognosis of HIV.

Many patients with haemophilia have inhibitory antibodies to factor VIII, the blood clotting protein. In 1984, at the Royal Free, Kernoff led a clinical trial using pig factor VIII to treat haemophilia patients with these antibodies. The results were successful and this treatment approach was in use until relatively recently.

Kernoff served on the Central Blood Laboratories Authority, was vice chairman of the United Kingdom Haemophilia Doctors’ Organisation and was secretary to the World Federation of Hemophilia. In 1988 he initiated and led the development of the UK National External Quality Assessment Scheme (NEQAS) for blood coagulation, which sets standards for laboratory services.

In 1992 the international prize of the Association Française des Hémophiles, the Prix Henri Chaigneau, was awarded to the Royal Free haemophilia centre.

In 1982 he had married Margaret Alker, a psychiatrist. They had no children and the marriage was dissolved in 1987. In 1988 he met Hannah Cohen, a consultant haematologist. They were to have married in June 1991, but in April of that year, at the age of 47, Kernoff suffered a near fatal cardiac arrest, sustained brain damage, and was left tetraplegic. In 1993 Hannah Cohen took him home, and cared for him devotedly. They were married in 2004.

Before his illness, he had secured an agreement for the extension of the haemophilia centre at the Royal Free; this was subsequently named the Peter Kernoff building in his honour.

RCP editor

[The Times 7 April 2006; The Guardian 19 April 2006; Brit.med.J., 2006 332 797]

(Volume XII, page web)

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