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Forging a New Frontier in Oxford Medicine

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Duration: 0:20:38 | Added: 12 May 2010
The historian Conrad Keating continues his history of Oxford's groundbreaking contribution to health in the tropics by asking David Warrell what motivated him to work in Africa...

The modern history of Oxford's medical contribution to the great neglected diseases of mankind begins with David Warrell's appointment as Director of the Mahidol-Oxford-Wellcome Unit in Bangkok, Thailand in May, 1979. Tropical research had fascinated Warrell since his time working in Nigeria and Addis Ababa in 1968. Together with his wife Mary, a medical virologist, he was chosen by David Weatherall, the Nuffield Professor of Medicine, to be Oxford's first practitioner of "medicine in the tropics" and he set himself the task of researching the patho-physiology of diseases. Jettisoning a safe, if uninspiring career as a consultant physician at the Radcliffe Infirmary, and supported by a Wellcome grant, he began research on cerebral malaria and the intradermal application of rabies vaccines. Although David Weatherall was unsure as to the Unit's longevity, his initial scepticism was soon dispelled: "David Warrell did an extremely fine job in setting up the unit and I was extremely proud of them all when I saw one of the first papers, the New England Journal of Medicine piece on the positive harm that can be done by treating cerebral malaria with steroids and the advice for its better management; what a wonderful start!" As well as becoming a world authority on snake bites, David Warrell laid the foundations for scientific excellence that Nick White and Nick Day have built upon so successfully in recent years. It was undoubtedly the enormous success of the Bangkok unit that has given rise to the other outstanding units based in Oxford, Vietnam, Laos and Kenya.

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