Lives of the fellows

Dorothy Trump

b.24 January 1964 d.26 March 2013
BA Cantab(1985) MB BChir(1988) MRCP(1991) MD(1996) FRCP(2004)

Dorothy Trump, known to friends, family and colleagues as ‘Dot’, was professor of human molecular genetics at the University of Manchester’s school of biomedicine. She was born in Redcar on Teesside and grew up in Stockton-on-Tees, where she inherited a keen sense of social justice from her parents, Leslie John and Iris Trump, who were social workers. A fiercely competitive streak and appetite for hard work emerged at school and took her from Stockton Sixth Form College to Downing College, Cambridge, to study medicine. She completed her clinical studies at the London Hospital and graduated in 1988.

A career in genetics began in earnest at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School (Hammersmith Hospital), where she spent three years in pursuit of the gene defect for X-linked hypophosphataemic rickets, and worked with others on mapping the first draft of the human genome. Her work there gained her an MD and left colleagues with enduring memories of a sharp researcher, collaborative scientist, natural leader and big sister.

Returning to Cambridge in 1995, Dot combined higher specialist training in clinical genetics with an intense period of research on a rare X-linked form of inherited blindness. After hunting down the gene for retinoschisis (beaten to the discovery at the last minute by a competing team), she set about finding out how the mutation caused disease. Her career was characterised by an ability to see well beyond the narrow confines of molecular genetics, to ask what her research might do for patients, then to make it happen. She was translating research into practice before it became fashionable. Being at the interface between science and sickness, to her it seemed natural that research must inform clinical work, and equally that clinical work must inform research. The molecular genetics laboratory at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge still provides a national genetic testing service for families affected by retinoschisis, thanks to the work she did linking the mutation with the disease.

Her interest in genetic eye disorders lasted throughout her time at Addenbrooke’s, and expanded into international collaborations and publications on congenital stationary night blindness, and a rare form of oculocutaneous albinism. By the time she left Cambridge in 2003, Dot was a consultant, a senior lecturer in genetics and a principal investigator at the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research.

Dot was comfortable in the highly charged world of bioscience at Cambridge, and just as comfortable counselling patients and their families. She was a hard working and committed doctor, well supported by sound judgement and a warm and empathic personality. She had a gift for explaining complex concepts, in conversation and in writing. Patients and their families benefitted from her clear thinking and so did local school children, who she famously inspired with pairs of multicoloured socks. Professor Trump’s talk on genes was a local highlight at primary schools in Manchester, where she moved with her family, to take up a chair in human molecular genetics in 2003. Here was a large, prestigious and fully integrated department where clinical genetics and research ran in parallel. It suited Dot perfectly, and she hit the ground running.

Dot proved a skilful fiscal negotiator and quickly secured the extra resources needed to continue her research in ocular genetics, forged new collaborations in genetic deafness, and recruited research students. She helped set up a clinical service for patients and families with hearing disorders, which still goes from strength to strength, and extended the department’s existing genetic ophthalmology clinics.

She also continued gene hunting, this time for mutations responsible for Perrault syndrome, a disorder characterised by deafness and female infertility. The work she began was published in April 2013 in the American Journal of Human Genetics (‘Perrault syndrome is caused by recessive mutations in CLPP, encoding a mitochondrial ATP-dependent chambered protease.’ Am J Hum Genet. 2013 Apr 4;92[4]:605-13). It was to be her last publication.

Dot died in March 2013, two months after her 49th birthday and almost six years to the day after she found a malignant breast lump. An unrelated soft tissue sarcoma emerged eight months later from a sore shoulder. Dot had two unrelated primary cancers at the same time. The breast cancer was cured, but she knew the sarcoma would be harder to manage and ultimately more dangerous.

Dot was funny, wise and open about her illness. Her blog – ‘Hard shoulder by Claudia Gene’ – is an unvarnished but up-beat account of what it feels like to have a life-threatening illness. As an enthusiastic early adopter of social media and a self confessed Facebook junkie, she posted, tweeted and texted to an extensive network of friends and colleagues. Bad news, including blunt prognostications and deteriorating scans, prompted calls to the pub or a night out for cocktails. There was no despair, just plenty of cake and the occasional (very occasional) ‘bugger’. Then she would forget about dying and get on with showing her two sons how to live.

She also continued to work, and for some years managed to juggle grant applications, clinics, teaching and research with the demands of a young family and long and exhausting treatments for cancer. Somehow there was also time for book groups, film clubs, contemporary dance, knitting circles and a series of pottery classes, where she made a ceramic X chromosome, complete with black and grey Giemsa bands. These interests became more important to her when she finally retired at the end of 2010 to spend time with her husband and soul mate, Jonathan Swinton, and to calmly and confidently prepare her boys for life without her.

Dot’s career was too short, but she leaves an outstanding legacy for others to build on. The University of Manchester has created an annual scholarship in her name, the Dorothy Trump scholarship in genetic medicine.

Alison Tonks

(Volume XII, page web)

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