Lives of the fellows

Terence John Hamblin

b.12 March 1943 d.8 January 2012
MB ChB Bristol(1967) MRCP(1971) MRCPath(1973) FRCP(1985) FRCPath(1985) DM(1986)

Terence John (‘Terry’) Hamblin, also known as ‘Prof’ to his friends, was professor of immunohaematology at Southampton University and dedicated most of his working life to leukaemia research. Born in Worcester, he was the son of John Gordon Hamblin, a tailor, and his wife Gladys Marjorie. Educated at Farnborough Grammar School in Hampshire, he studied medicine at Bristol University and the United Bristol hospitals.

Qualifying in 1967, he did house jobs at the Southmead Hospital in Bristol and the Bristol Royal Infirmary for three years. He then moved to Poole General Hospital where he was Medical Research Council registrar in medicine from 1970 to 1972 and then senior registrar in haematology until 1974. Following this he was appointed consultant haematologist at the Royal Bournemouth Hospital at the early age of 31 and immediately set about establishing haematology as a clinical discipline and commencing his research. Four years later, in 1978, he became consultant immunologist to the Wessex Regional Immunology Service and, in 1980, honorary senior lecturer in clinical immunology to Southampton University, being appointed professor of immunohaematology in 1987.

His research in leukaemia involved him becoming successively an expert in plasma exchange, stem cell transplantation, monoclonal antibody therapy, myelodysplastic syndrome and chronic lymphocyte leukaemia (CLL). This latter form of leukaemia – CLL – had puzzled scientists unable to determine why in some patients the disease progressed extremely slowly and in others it was fast and aggressive. Hamblin and his team discovered through analysis of DNA that there were two molecular forms of CLL based on the mutation status of the immunoglobulin (Ig) gene: one which had mutated gave sufferers an average of 25 years of survival, whereas those patients with the unmutated genes would probably only live for eight years. He published these findings with four co-authors as ‘Unmutated Ig V(H) genes are associated with a more aggressive form of chronic lymphocytic leukemia’ (Blood, 1999, 94, 1848). Daniel Catovsky, emeritus professor at the Institute for Cancer Research has called this paper, published back to back with an American paper describing the same result, ‘the main contribution of Terry Hamblin to CLL research’. He further remarked that the findings had now been confirmed and have generated a large area of new and important research in CLL.

With his team in Bournemouth, he pioneered many new types of treatment such as plasmapheresis, anti-idiotype therapy, peripheral blood autologous stem cell transplantation and DNA vaccines. In 1999 he injected a 42 year old lymphoma patient, Catherine Nosrati, with a ‘vaccine’ made from genetic material from a cancer cell combined with a harmless part of a toxin. Although this procedure had helped to confer immunity against cancer in various animal experiments its effectiveness has still to be proved. Much more successful was his use of a stem cell transplant on a lymphoma patent using stem cells from the patient’s own blood. Previously the procedure was to remove the stem cells from the sufferer’s bone marrow – a very painful process. The use of blood for stem cell transplants has now, thanks to his initiative, become standard procedure.

He retired as a consultant haematologist at the Royal Victoria in 2003 and was appointed honorary consultant haematologist at King’s College Hospital the following year. He had been the recipient of a Guernsey fellowship for stem cell transplantation in 1986 and in 2002 was awarded the Binet-Rai medal for outstanding research in CLL. He was president of the European Society of Haemapheresis.

A prolific author, he published some 200 scientific papers and for 26 years was the co-editor in chief of the journal Leukaemia research. He also contributed to the popular medical magazine World medicine and published several books including Immunological investigation of lymphoid neoplasms with G T Stevenson and J L Smith (Edinburgh, Churchill Livingstone, 1983), Haematological problems in the elderly (London, Bailliere Tindall, 1987) and Immunotherapy of disease (Lancaster, Kluwer, 1990).

His interests included ‘researching scientific fraud’, Sunday School superintendent and writing poetry and he wrote of his activities that he ‘once played seven parts in one pantomime’ and once took five wickets for three runs in a school cricket match’.

A devout Christian, his faith was a major part of his life. He was vice-president of the biblical Creation Society and, for more than 20 years, was deacon, elder and lay preacher at the Lansdowne Baptist Church in Bournemouth. Sensitive to other people’s views, he would not force his opinion on non-believers. In the last six years of his life he maintained an internet blog in which he mixed commentaries on the latest cancer research with thoughts on biblical texts. A month before he died, he confided to his many readers that he had been contemplating the end of the film Schindler’s list, in which the man who has saved so many Jews reflects that he could have saved even more lives. Hamblin, acknowledging that the drugs he was on made him unduly emotional, commented that he felt the same.

In 1967 he married Diane Vivienne and they had two sons, Richard and David, and two daughters, Karen and Angela, who is medically qualified and specialised in haematology. When he died from colon cancer, Diane, their children and six grandchildren survived him.

RCP editor

[BMJ 2012 344 2287; Leukaemia res 2012 36 383-4; Wikipedia; Creation Ministries International; Blog at - all accessed 5 October 2015]

(Volume XII, page web)

<< Back to List