The newspaper of Imperial College London
 Issue 131, 11 July 2003
International recognition for branding project«
A vision for the future«
Imperial 'double' in Queen's Birthday Honours«
Statistician elected Fellow of the British Academy«
The Dambusters!«
Helping Romanian farmers to make hay«
Green Design Challenge winners«
Wellcome to a new beginning«
Dr Olivia Judson's animal magic«
Academy of Medical Sciences Fellows«
Science of pulling togetherů«
Third IDEA League Sports Events 2003«
Farewell to Ann Shearer«
College Intranet launched«
Focus on volunteering«
Flying the flag for Imperial«
In Brief«
Media spotlight«

Wellcome to a new beginning

by Tanya Reed

DOCTOR Mark Walport will miss his Wednesday mornings at Hammersmith Hospital's 'staff rounds' - the weekly case presentations in the Stamp lecture theatre which he chaired regularly for many years.

image: Professor Mark Walport
Professor Mark Walport... taking over as Director of The Wellcome Trust

"Three cases are presented, followed by discussions," he tells me, on the day he's clearing his office on the third floor of Hammersmith Hospital's faculty building, in preparation for his new job as Director of The Wellcome Trust.

"The standard is very high standard, and a majority of the senior staff attend. They provide a superb training for young doctors - if they can present at Hammersmith, they can present at the largest international congress around."

Surrounded by boxes and bin bags, we look out across London. Close to the Millennium Wheel and the Post Office tower, the Imperial tower can clearly be seen.

It's a view the first head of the division of medicine at Imperial College will also miss.

"Hammersmith has been a wonderful place to do clinical science. It has a tremendous ethos for research and I'm proud to have helped develop a research lab and to have been the first head of the division of medicine, playing an instrumental role in getting the merged medical school off to a flying start."

He'd like the research department to continue to train very bright young doctors to be the clinical investigators for the future.

"It's a very powerful training environment with a strong emphasis on transferring medicine from the lab to clinical practice."

Walport first joined Hammersmith Hospital as a senior house officer in 1978. After a short stint of SHO posts elsewhere in London, he returned to Hammersmith in November 1980 as a registrar in general medicine and rheumatology.

After PhD training in Cambridge with Professor Peter Lachmann, Hammersmith beckoned again and since 1985 he has progressed from senior lecturer in rheumatology to professor of medicine, with an additional stint as Director of Research and Development at Hammersmith Hospitals Trust. In 1997 following the merger of the medical schools in West London with Imperial College he was appointed as the first head of the division of medicine.

His mentors included Professor Sir Colin Dollery at Hammersmith to whom he was Senior House Officer in 1978.

"He was my first contact with the academic consultant staff and clinical science at Hammersmith when I was a very young doctor.

"As a Cambridge graduate student, Peter Lachmann taught me a rigorous and questioning approach to science. There have been many other mentors along the way."

As a child, the professor enjoyed natural history. During A levels, a 'hands-on' charismatic biology teacher interested him in the genetics of fruit flies.

"My father was a GP and I had always assumed I'd do medicine. Starting at Hammersmith gave me a flying start.

"I've always been an experimentalist since being a student. In order to study disease, you need to do experimental medicine.

"I have also always undertaken experiments on humans, including myself. In 1980, I remember inhaling allergens and I had a bronchoscopy but I coughed so much, the whole thing was disastrous."

His work since then has proved much more successful, taking him around the world, predominantly to Europe and the United States.

He has also produced countless papers on a variety of subjects from asthma to lupus and has held positions such as Chairman of the Research Ethics Committee and Chairman of the Research and Development Committee of the Hammersmith Hospitals Trust.

He helped in the foundation of the Academy of Medical Sciences as its first Registrar.

His advice to other up and coming young hopefuls? "Pursue your enthusiasm and be brave. Academic medicine doesn't offer a straightforward career, but there are many creative opportunities and it's so diverse, you should go for it.

"The skills you can learn at Hammersmith are very important in both science and clinical medicine. You are taught the important medical questions to ask."

imperial front page | reporter front page | this issue's front page | feedback
©2003 Imperial College London