Lives of the fellows

Alan Harold Waters

b.16 February 1934 d.2 May 2009
MB BS Queensland(1958) MRCP(1977) PhD Lond(1963) FRCP(1984)

Alan Harold Waters was professor of haematology at St Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical College, London and founding editor of the journal Transfusion medicine, the official journal of the British Blood Transfusion Society (BBTS).

Born in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, his father was Harold Robert John Waters, a businessman. Educated at the Church of England Grammar School in Brisbane from 1949 to 1952, he excelled academically and was dux of the school in his final year. Best student in the state senior public examination, he won the John Black scholarship which paid for his studies. He read medicine at the University of Queensland Medical School in Herston and trained at the Royal Brisbane Hospital. On qualifying in 1958, he did house jobs at the Royal Brisbane for two years.

In 1960, having won the University of Queensland travelling fellowship in medicine, he travelled to the UK and became a research fellow at the department of haematology of the Royal Postgraduate Medical School (RPGMS) under Sir John Dacie [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web]. While at the RPMS and the Hammersmith Hospital, he undertook important research into vitamin B12 and folate metabolism in the megaloblastic anaemias. He developed a diagnostic test which was to become the gold standard for assessing folate deficiency, and which later proved the basis for a commercial kit. His PhD thesis on this topic was submitted in 1963 and was supervised by David Mollin [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.372]. At this time he also became interested in the possibilities of blood transfusion and was extensively trained in the subject by Sheila Worlledge, a director of the Hammersmith blood transfusion unit.

He returned to Australia in 1964 and moved to Melbourne to become haematologist-in-charge of the department of haematology and pathologist-in- charge of the radio-isotope unit at St Vincent’s Hospital, part of a group led by Carl de Gruchy [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.147]. After a year there, he decided to come back to the UK and rejoined the staff of the RPGMS as a lecturer in the Medical Research Council group for the investigation of megaloblastic and sideroblastic anaemias under his previous supervisor, David Mollin.

When St Bartholomew’s Hospital started a new London University department of haematology in 1966, Waters moved there to continue his research and take up the post of senior lecturer in haematology. Five years later, in 1971, he established and staffed an academic unit for blood transfusion at Bart’s. Here he built up a world class, hospital-based, red cell reference laboratory. It was the first in the UK to pioneer sophisticated screening methods and, subsequently, electronic cross matching. He was awarded a personal chair in haematology in 1982 and this was fully established two years later. Continuing his research in platelet and granulocyte immunology, he built up a small but strong research team and he was always keen to provide a stimulating and caring environment in which his staff could further their careers. One of his great strengths was the encouragement of others.

At Bart’s and at London University he gave unstinting service on various committees. By the time he retired in 1995, he had been a member of nine professional societies, held office in 10 professional bodies and UK societies and in four international organisations. A founder member of the BBTS, he was the first editor of its journal Transfusion medicine and, although he was famous for his friendly and informal persona, was a fastidious and critical editor, hating any errors of spelling or use of English. He was also a councillor of the BBTS from 1986 to 1990 and chairman of the platelet and granulocyte special interest group from 1984 to 1991. President of the British Society for Haematology from 1992 to 1994, he also chaired the British Committee for Standards in Haematology and was on various of its working parties. For the International Society of Blood Transfusion, he was a councillor from 1994 to 1996 and he was on the expert panel on platelet serology for the International Council for Standards in Haematology. He was also responsible for organising the very successful third European platelet and granulocyte immunobiology symposium in Cambridge in 1994.

During his career he published over 130 scientific papers on topics such as B12 and folate metabolism in megaloblastic anaemias, immune thrombocytopenia and neutropenia and autoimmune response to bone-marrow transplantation. He also gave over 200 presentations. Several awards came his way including the Carl de Gruchy medallion of the Haematology Society of Australia and the Oliver Memorial Award which is given for distinguished service to blood transfusion.

When he retired he was made an emeritus professor but preferred to give up work completely saying that ‘when you walk out that door, you are out of date.’ He returned to Queensland and built a new home overlooking the Glasshouse Mountains at Maleny. When a schoolboy he had enjoyed drama, debating, writing and playing tennis and, over the years, he had kept in contact with the friends who shared these interests. At Maleny, he gardened, entertained and savoured his country’s excellent wines. When he died he was survived by John Stringer, who had been his lifelong partner.

RCP editor

[Transfusion medicine 2009 19 221-2]

(Volume XII, page web)

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