Professor Sir Doug Turnbull, an expert in neurology at Newcastle University, has been honoured by the Queen for his pioneering work into the understanding of mitochondrial disease.
He cares for more than 1,000 patients and their families dealing with mitochondrial disease, a genetic disorder that at its most severe causes blindness, heart failure and ultimately death.
Professor Turnbull, who was knighted by Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace, said: “I am delighted to receive this knighthood.
“I am privileged to work with a dedicated group of colleagues and we all work together to improve the lives of patients with mitochondrial disease.”
In 2012, Professor Turnbull’s work was recognised when he and his colleagues were awarded the coveted Wellcome Centre status, one of only a handful in the UK.
As director of the Centre, Professor Turnbull has built an internationally-renowned team of clinicians and researchers, with patients opting to travel from all over the country to be under his care in Newcastle.
While the treatments he and his colleagues at the University provide have improved the quality of life for hundreds of patients, preventing these disabling genetic diseases is crucially important for families.
Certain forms of mitochondrial disease are passed down from mother to child. Mitochondrial donation, a new IVF technique developed in the Wellcome Centre for Mitochondrial Research at the University, offers women with the condition the chance of having healthy children.
Professor Turnbull has worked tirelessly with patients, patient organisations and policy makers to champion mitochondrial donation. These efforts were rewarded when the UK parliament voted to allow this ground-breaking treatment to be offered to patients.
Inspiring future generations
Under his inspiring leadership, Professor Turnbull has trained more than 40 PhD students who have progressed to work in this important area at Newcastle University and across the world.
He developed and leads the NHS National Highly Specialised Services for Rare Mitochondrial Diseases of Children and Adults, and is Director of the Newcastle University Centre for Brain Ageing and Vitality, supported by the MRC and BBSRC.
Professor Turnbull is an Honorary Consultant Neurologist at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. He is also an NIHR Senior Fellow and has sat on, and chaired, several Wellcome Trust panels/committees during his career.
The Royal College of Physicians has recognised Professor Turnbull on several occasions as he was awarded the Goulstonian Lecturer (1992), the Jean Hunter Prize (2003) and the Sims Royal College of Physicians Lecturer (2004).
Professor Chris Day, Vice-Chancellor and President of Newcastle University, said: “Doug is a world-leading scientist and doctor who has dedicated his career to understanding and treating a disease that blights the lives of families across the world.
“I first met him in the laboratories of Newcastle University’s medical school 27 years ago and his dedication to finding a solution for patients suffering from mitochondrial diseases has never wavered.
“He also leads a hugely successful Wellcome Trust Centre which has attracted doctors and researchers to work alongside Doug and his team, developing a new generation of pioneering scientists and clinicians. As a mark of its achievements this Centre recently had its funding renewed at an increased level until 2022.
“It is a mark of the significance of Doug’s achievements that he has been honoured in this way and we are all very proud of him at Newcastle.”
Putting patients first
Away from the lab, Professor Turnbull devotes countless hours supporting a UK-wide patient network. This includes talks to families, presentations to charities, as well as answering around-the-clock queries from patients.
Liz Curtis, CEO of the mitochondrial disease charity, The Lily Foundation, said: “I set up The Lily Foundation after losing my eight month old daughter, Lily, to a mitochondrial disease in April 2008.
“When your child is diagnosed with a condition for which there is no effective treatment and no cure, it is truly heart-breaking.
“We learned through our doctor about the research that Doug was undertaking in Newcastle and our doctor spoke of Doug as the 'Guru' of mitochondrial disease research. In fact, I am sure that anyone affected by mitochondrial disease will know of Doug Turnbull.
“The Lily Foundation is delighted to be able to support the research work at Newcastle University. To be involved in ground-breaking science is very exciting, but also to be able to say to our families that we work alongside Doug is fantastic for us as a charity and gives us huge credibility.
“Doug has given up his time to support The Lily Foundation in other ways, too. He has attended and spoken at our annual charity ball, and spent time talking with supporters and families.
“He has involved us in his patient information days in Newcastle, in public awareness engagement events and encouraged our participation in the public consultation for the new IVF Treatment ‘mitochondrial donation’ that could help many of the families we support have a healthy child.
“We at The Lily Foundation believe he goes above and beyond what would be expected from someone in his position.
“It is incredibly clear to us that his passion and dedication for his work comes from the heart and that his primary focus is his patients. This is a very special trait in a doctor and is what makes him stand out above the rest.”
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