Renowned Monash medical graduate and haematologist retires

After over 45 years of devotion and service to the academic and medical fields Professor Don Bowden has announced his retirement. Don has had a stellar academic and clinical career during which he was a pioneer in the management and molecular diagnosis of haemoglobinopathies in the Asia-Pacific.

Don commenced his medical training at Monash University in 1962 and graduated with first class honours in 1968. His academic excellence is evidenced by him being awarded the Prince Henry’s Hospital medal for the graduate with highest marks as well as the Sophie Davis Memorial medal for the graduate with the highest aggregate marks in all Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth year examinations.

Don undertook his residency at the Alfred Hospital in 1969. In 1971 he set sail for the New Hebrides now known as Vanuatu, where he was appointed as Medical Officer in the British National Service. Here he provided care in all disciplines of medicine, including paediatric and adult medicine, surgery, anaesthesia, obstetrics and emergency neurosurgery. He was also responsible for developing laboratory services. Don’s observations of an iron replete anaemia that was prevalent in the local indigenous communities led to his interest in haemoglobinopathies. This would later become his clinical and research passion and would in many ways define and shape his future career.

Don briefly moved to the United Kingdom in the mid-1970s where he completed his MRCP. Whilst in the UK he had the privilege of working with leading clinicians in the haemoglobinopathy field including Professor Dacie and Professor J. M. White. In 1976 Don returned to Vanuatu to assume the role of senior consultant physician at the British Base Hospital in Port Vila. In addition, he also oversaw laboratory and blood transfusion services on behalf of the British National Service in the New Hebrides. In this role Don established diagnostic laboratory facilities relevant to local needs, as well as a National Blood Transfusion Service. This dual appointment provided Don with the opportunity to begin to further investigate the public health significance of the haemoglobinopathies in collaboration with Professor J White of Kings College Hospital. In 1979 Don was appointed Director of Medical Services, British National Service, and Medical Superintendent of the Vila Base Hospital.  In this role Don was instrumental in developing health service legislation prior to Vanuatu gaining independence. Many of these legislative principles remain in place today. The regard with which Don was held in Vanuatu is evidenced by his appointment as Senior Medical Adviser to the Minister of Health, Republic of Vanuatu between 1980 and 1982. During this period he was also made Deputy Director of Medical Services for the Republic of Vanuatu.

Don’s commitment to improving the health needs of local communities in Vanuatu was marked with him being awarded an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1979. Other honours bestowed upon him for his contribution to the health system of Vanuatu included the Western Pacific High Commission Medal (1979), the Vanuatu Government Independence Medal (1981) and the Vanuatu Government National Medal of Merit (1993).

In 1982 Don briefly returned to Melbourne to pursue his interest in the clinical and public health aspects of the haemoglobinopathies. However, in 1983 he left for the UK again to receive special training in molecular genetics in Sir Prof Weatherall’s Department of Medicine, Oxford University. This began a long term collaborative relationship between Don and Sir Prof David Weatherall. In the ensuing years Don spent several periods at the Institute of Molecular Medicine at Oxford University, chiefly in the laboratory of Professor John Clegg, Deputy Director of the Institute of Molecular Medicine.

In 1985 Don undertook further training in paediatrics under the guidance of Professor Arthur Clark. Concurrently he established the first fully accredited DNA laboratory in Australia, then located in the Department of Anatomy at Monash University. Don continued to hold an active appointment within in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology with full teaching, research and administrative responsibilities. In 1998 he was made an Associate Professor in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, Monash University.

In 1988 Don was appointed Head of the Clinical Genetics Division, Centre for Early Human Development as well as paediatric haematologist/oncologist at Monash Medical Centre. Additionally, since 1998 Don has served as Head of Thalassaemia Services Victoria and Director of the Victorian Clinical Genetics Services (VCGS) molecular diagnostic laboratory at Monash Medical Centre which functions as the State Service for the molecular diagnosis of the haemoglobinopathies and haemophilia. In this role, Don has also served as the head of the Victorian State Thalassaemia Clinical Care Service at Monash Medical Centre.

Don’s academic success is evidenced by his extensive publication record, including over 70 peer reviewed publications in leading journals, several book chapters and the awarding of numerous competitive grants from national and international funding bodies.

Over the past 4 decades Don’s contributions to haemoglobinopathy management are too numerous to mention. As well as being a pioneer in the molecular characterisation of the haemoglobinopathies, he has been at the forefront of the development of oral iron chelators and management protocols for thalassaemia patients. Indeed we can surely say that he has touched the lives of many patients who no doubt are alive today as a direct result of Dons care and attention. Additionally, the medical profession is indebted to Don for his passionate education of a generation of haematologists and medical students in anatomy as well as in haemoglobinopathy management and diagnosis.

Over the years many medical and allied health staff have been privileged to work with Don. He has been a mentor, colleague and friend to many over the many years he has served the health care community and for that we are eternally grateful.

We wish him all the best for a long, healthy and happy retirement.

Written by staff from Monash Haematology.