1997 Balzan Prize for Epidemiology
Acceptance Speech – Bern, 18.11.1997
I am naturally very honoured by the award of the Balzan Prize, not only because of its recognition of my own particular branch of medical science but also because this has happened as a direct result of the wide-ranging and liberal view of human activity established by Angela Lina Balzan and her father Eugenio. This has since been clearly maintained by the Foundation and helps to break down the “two cultures” attitude towards science and the humanities identified in my country by the novelist C. P. Snow. It is now widely agreed that this needs to be overcome, not just for intellectual but also practical reasons, so that the findings of scientific studies are appreciated and appropriately implemented, and -just as important – that scientists know what society expects of them. So I am glad to be sharing this occasion with Professor Gillispie and Professor Tambiah.
There are several other individuals or groups to whom I want to express my gratitude. Establishing associations between a system as complex as the clotting cascade and coronary heart disease involves clinical, laboratory and statistical – as well as epidemiological- expertise, and because of the extended natural history of coronary disease the necessary work has inevitably been long term, So it is, I hope, obvious that I am receiving the prize on behalf of many colleagues over the years as well. One way of thanking them, and recognizing their contribution, will be to use the prize to continue the progress they have mode through one of the new opportunities that may help further in the prevention and treatment of coronary disease -forestalling or aborting some common infections such as influenza, surprising though this may seem. Among these colleagues, I especially want to thank Yvonne Stirling, our senior laboratory scientist throughout the programme until her retirement two years ago. She started off with a collection of cardboard boxes of equipment and supplies in one small room, and when she left was running a large laboratory with an international reputation far excellence and innovation n the investigation of bleeding as well as thrombotic disorders. We also needed encouragement and support from outside our own group, since in the early 1970s, when we started our work, the idea that clotting and thrombosis had much if anything to do with coronary disease was considered by most to be eccentric. My friend and colleague Gustav Born, also here today, has been (and still is) our mainstay in this respect – consistently supportive while at the same time keeping an open mind, as a good scientist should, until the evidence begins to accumulate and to convince.
Next, I want to recognize the essential contributions made by the British Medical Research Council in particular and, more recently, the British Heart Foundation as well. Research of the sort we have done depends on agencies like the MRC being prepared first, to back novel ideas from new investigators and secondly, to provide long-term funding, subject to regular review. Without the MRC’s very substantial support far the early and more basic aspects of our programme, and that of both the MRC and the Heart Foundation for the more appiied studies we are now doing, we would not have been able to follow the new lines of inquiry we wanted to.
Underpinning all this has been my family – my wife Liz and my three children, the youngest of whom is now very nearly 27, but who was not born when I first started our programme at Northwick Park Hospital, and to which, in passing, I would also like to express my very great affection for the friendly and interested background my colleagues there have always provided. Different people need different kinds of support for what they do – certainly in mine, it has been the mutual interest, advice and concern the family has provided – during both the downs and the ups – over each other’s professional activities as well as our lives outside these areas. Liz and the family have grown up, or grown older, with various clotting factors, with which they have become increasingly familiar and about which they could by now give as good an account as many experts!
I like to think their interest is at least partly because they want to know how our life-style affects their clotting systems, but sometimes it’s perhaps been somewhat tongue-in-cheek, which has helped me from taking myself too seriously! To them especially, and to the others I have mentioned, I repeat my most sincere thanks.