Professor Owen P. Smith gives a lecture “60 years since the discovery of Burkitt Lymphoma”

Posted on: 03 October 2018

On 24 September, the opening day of Cancer Week, Professor Owen P. Smith gave a lecture “60 years since the discovery of Burkitt Lymphoma” at Trinity.

Denis Parsons Burkitt (1911-1993), a surgeon and research scientist who is a household name in the medical profession received his BA in 1933 and graduated from Trinity as a physician in 1935. In Africa he developed exceptional observational and analytical skills which led him to develop a successful treatment for the commonest childhood cancer in Sub Saharan Africa – Burkitt lymphoma. His contributions to cancer remain salient today, and his discoveries continue to generate new research.

Owen P. Smith, CBE, MA, MB, BA Mod. (Biochem) (1980), FRCPCH, FFPRCPI, FRCP (Ire., Edin., Lon., Glasg.), FRCPath, FFpathRCPI, DHMSA, Hon. FTCD, is Professor of Paediatric and Adolescent Medicine, University College Dublin; Consultant Paediatric Haematologist, Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin; Chief Academic Lead to the Children’s Hospital Group; Hon. Regius Professor of Physic [1637], Trinity. Since returning from postgraduate training at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, London in the early 1990’s he has devoted the last twenty five years of his career to caring for neonates, children and adolescents with cancer and blood disorders. One of his main areas of research has been in evidence-based randomised peer-reviewed paediatric haemato-oncology clinical trials, focusing on clinical questions within all domains of paediatric blood and cancer. He is a member of numerous associations and societies, including; the Medical Research Council Childhood Leukaemia Working Party, the International Berlin Frankfurt Munster Study Group for Childhood Leukaemia, and the United Kingdom Children’s Cancer Group. Professor Smith was awarded the St Luke’s Medal by the Royal Academy of Medicine and St Luke’s Hospital for his work on improving outcomes in adolescent cancers with specific reference to the haematological malignancies.

Professor Owen P. Smith

Professor Smith, who has deep interest in Denis Burkitt and was inspired by his work said:

Denis Burkitt had amazing powers of observation and a tremendous ability to turn simple clinical observation into major scientific discovery. In 1958 in Uganda he identified a unique sub-type of non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (Burkitt lymphoma) which turned out to be the commonest lymphoma seen in children and adolescents worldwide. In the African bush, Denis went on to develop the first successful treatment for this tumour, making it the first common childhood cancer to be cured by chemotherapy. Denis’s contributions to oncology / haematology remain salient today, and his discoveries continue to generate new research on a global basis.

Professor Michael Gill, Head of School of Medicine, introducing the lecture pointed out that “Burkitt’s legacy of observation and curiosity, care for the patients combined with a passion for research continues to live and is especially important now as we concentrate on taking Trinity St. James’s Cancer Institute to the next stage of development.”


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