Obituaries

Terence John Hamblin

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e2287 (Published 28 March 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e2287
  1. Ned Stafford

Haematologist and expert in chronic lymphocytic leukaemia

Near the end of Terry Hamblin’s life, when he was suffering withcolon cancer, he was grappling with doubts about what might have been.

In his personal internet blog (http://mutated-unmuated.blogspot.de/2011/11/health-report.html), he confided in late November 2011 to his many readers: “I am up one day and down the next. Partially, it is the dexamethasone that makes me emotionally labile. I had a weepy day yesterday as I contemplated the things I had left undone. At the end of Schindler’s List, Liam Neeson has a scene where he looks at his luxury car and his gold ring and thinks of how many more Jews these could have bought. ‘I could have done more,’ he exclaims. That is how I felt.”

But no one who knew Hamblin as a doctor or a colleague or a friend has any doubts about his medical contributions. Hamblin spent his adult life providing quality and caring treatment for his many patients and conducting important medical research.

Daniel Catovsky, emeritus professor at the UK’s Institute of Cancer Research, says, “He was a great man, always cheerful, and the centre of attention for his jokes and anecdotes. Concern for patients was always his priority.” Catovsky adds: “Terry Hamblin was one of the best minds in clinical research.”

Hamblin’s contributions include helping pioneer new types of treatments such as plasmapheresis, anti-idiotype therapy, peripheral blood autologous stem cell transplantation, and DNA vaccines. His most important research focused on myelodysplasia and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL). “The main contribution of Terry Hamblin to CLL research is, without question, the paper published in Blood in 1999 (94(6):1848-54), back to back with an American paper describing the same finding,” says Dr Catovsky.

Doctors had long been puzzled why CLL progresses slowly in some people over many years, and quickly and aggressively in others. Research by Hamblin and colleagues indicated that the course of the disease was dependent on the mutation status of the immunoglobulin (Ig) gene, Catovsky said. Unmutated genes caused the more aggressive form of CLL and mutated genes the more benign form.

“These findings have been confirmed by everybody around the world and have generated a large area of new research in CLL based on the nature of the B cell receptor—the immunoglobulin molecule on the surface of B cells,” Catovsky said. “Both papers are now citation classics and may represent one of the most original observations in this disease for a long time.”

Terence John Hamblin was born on 12 March 1943 in Worcester, England. After attending school at Farnborough, Hampshire from 1954 until1962, he studied medicine at the University of Bristol. He earned his medical degree in 1967. A few weeks later he married Diane, who was to be his wife for 44 years. He held junior doctor posts in Bristol until 1974 when, at the young age of 31, he was appointed consultant haematologist at Royal Bournemouth Hospital, establishing haematology as a clinical discipline and beginning his research. He held the position until 2003 and in 1986 he also was appointed professor of immunohaematology at the University of Southampton.

His daughter, Angela Hamblin, a doctor who is a haematology registrar in the Oxford Deanery, said that studying medicine was her father’s childhood ambition. “I think it appealed to him as a career as he was naturally inquisitive about all things scientific and loved acquiring knowledge on just about anything.”

He enjoyed practising medicine and doing research equally, she says, adding: “The latter allowed him to think laterally about what was going on at the molecular level to make a patient ill and why two patients with ostensibly the same disease behaved so differently, while the former reminded him why performing such research was so important.”

Hamblin’s honours include being awarded the Binet-Rai medal for outstanding research in CLL and being named honorary consultant haematologist at King’s College Hospital, London. He was the long time editor in chief of the medical journal Leukemia Research. In 2008 the UK CLL Forum, which Hamblin founded, established the Hamblin Prize [link to http://www.ukcllforum.org/catovsky.html], to be awarded annually for the “the best CLL-related publication from a UK based group.”

Hamblin’s Christian faith was a major part of his life. He served as vice president of the Biblical Creation Society and spent more than 20 years in leadership at Lansdowne Baptist Church in Bournemouth as deacon, elder and lay preacher.

David Oscier, consultant haematologist at the Royal Bournemouth Hospital, describes him as “a devout Christian with strongly held beliefs which he never sought to impose on those who did not share them.” He also says “Terry had a wonderful sense of humour and a large repertoire of terrible jokes. He was an enthusiastic and charming individual alive with ideas and full of energy. He loved to communicate. He loved writing.”

Indeed, on 12 December 2005, Hamblin inaugurated his internet blog with the title: mutations of mortality—Random thoughts of Terry Hamblin about leukaemia, literature, poetry, politics, religion, cricket and music. For the next six years, Hamblin wrote regularly—and prolifically. His readers often replied on the blog with comments of their own. His entries sometimes were intensely personal, as in autumn 2008 when he revealed that “a small lymph node” had been found in his colon.

He published his last blog entry [link to http://mutated-unmuated.blogspot.de/2011/12/john-829-30the-trinity.html] on 6 December 2011, under the title “John 8:29-30: The Trinity.” The brief blog began: “The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him. Even as he spoke, many believed in him.”

Hamblin leaves behind his wife, their two daughters and two sons, and six grandchildren.

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e2287

Footnotes

  • Terence (“Terry”) John Hamblin (b 1943; q University of Bristol 1967; MB, ChB; DM (Soton), FRCP; FRCPath; FMedSci), died on 8 January 2012 from colon cancer.