God’s healing hand
Professor Terry Hamblin (1943–2012)
It is a wonderful thing when a scientist makes a breakthrough that brings betterment to others. It is more wonderful still when that scientist is an unashamed Christian who upholds the integrity and historicity of the Bible—including the creation account of Genesis.
One such scientist was Professor Terence John Hamblin who died on 8th January 2012 at the ‘young’ age of 68. Terry Hamblin (simply ‘Prof’ to many of his friends) defended the Bible and the Christian faith with enthusiasm and conviction, both inside and outside of church circles. Professionally, he had a distinguished career in the field of hematology for some 30 years, following his appointment as Consultant Haematologist at the Royal Bournemouth Hospital (England) in 1974.1
From his previous employment in Bristol, the move further south to the county of Dorset opened the way for him to settle down in Bournemouth. There, together with his colleagues, he established a first class hematology service. This team effort turned a small laboratory into a large, well-resourced department with an international reputation for its work on blood cancers. He worked alongside Southampton Medical School where he attended seminars and sought to share ideas and research with fellow academics. During this period, he made a significant breakthrough in successfully performing an autologous2 stem cell transplant on a patient with lymphoma (cancer of the lymph system), using stem cells from the patient’s blood (a morally acceptable form of stem cell therapy3). Prior to Hamblin’s discovery, a cell transplant would have required stem cells from a patient’s bone marrow, a much more invasive and uncomfortable procedure. So successful was Hamblin’s new technique that today the use of blood for stem cell transplants is an established practice in the medical field.
Southampton University honoured his hard work and achievements with a Professorship of Immunohaematology in 1987. There his skills began to push medical boundaries further still. He became a recognised expert in the disciplines of plasma exchange, monoclonal antibody therapy, and in the diagnosis and treatment of myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS; involves defective blood formation) and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL; a type of slow growing leukemia).
Hamblin became particularly interested in the treatment of CLL. In fact, he dedicated the remainder of his professional life to discovering more about this condition, in order to give patients more of an understanding about their illness, and of course to alleviate the pain that they endured.
It had been known for some time that sufferers of CLL were broadly of two types. A proportion of patients seemed to have a sedentary (‘indolent’) version of the disease, where it took many years for symptoms to manifest themselves. Other patients seemed to have a more aggressive version of the disease. Research by Professor Hamblin and his co-workers not only confirmed this but showed that the root cause of this difference was a genetic one. While the apparently milder form of CLL gave patients a life expectancy of some 25 years from the time of diagnosis, the more virulent form gave a life expectancy of only eight years.4,5 With this genetic knowledge at hand, doctors could now advise patients of their prognosis with a far greater degree of certainty.
For example, in practical terms, older patients who were diagnosed with the weaker version of CLL would know that they could well expect another 25 years or so of life. Therefore in all likelihood they would not need any treatment within their lifetime. Conversely, patients with the more aggressive strain could be given appropriate treatment in a prompt manner. This discovery brought insight to clinicians and patients alike, giving reassurance to doctors that the best treatments were being administered, and assurance to patients that they were receiving the most effective care.
Professor Hamblin earned some impressive credentials during his career, including:
- President of the European Society of Haemapheresis, 1986.
- Honorary consultant haematologist at Kings College Hospital, London, 2004.
- Editor-in-chief of the medical journal Leukemia Research.
- A regular columnist for the magazine World Medicine.
- Awarded the Binet-Rai medal for outstanding research in chronic lymphocytic leukemia, 2002.
- His published books include Plasmapheresis and Plasma Exchange (1979) and Immunotherapy of Disease (1990) as well as over 300 medical and research papers.
Professor Hamblin saw a lot of potential in the idea of using DNA as part of a treatment for patients. Beginning in 1999 and running for over a decade, he and his colleagues carried out trial ‘vaccinations’ at the Royal Bournemouth Hospital. The science behind these vaccinations works something like this: genetic material from a cancer cell is combined with a harmless part of a toxin, then injected into lymphoma (cancer of the lymphatic system) sufferer’s blood. The vaccine then triggers a response in the patient’s immune system to destroy the toxin. The malignant lymphoma cells are also targeted (and hopefully destroyed) in the process.
This procedure is still in its trial stage, having shown promising results in conferring protective immunity against tumours in various animal experiments. The usefulness for humans is as yet unproven, and, as such, Professor Hamblin’s death has left this as a ‘torch’ to be passed on to other researchers and medical pioneers.
Unashamed for truth
Prof. Hamblin was held in high regard by his peers in the hematology world, not to mention by many sufferers from leukemia and lymphoma. However, what is all the more refreshing, in our increasingly secular society, is that he was never reticent about his creationist views. In a community that might have been ready to pour scorn on such beliefs he clearly saw no conflict between his work and his biblical stance.
Interestingly, the Daily Telegraph newspaper (UK) picked up this point: “Perhaps unusually for a scientist, Hamblin was a devout Christian of fundamentalist views …”4 Here, the writer perceives a divide between Christianity and science, between faith and reason (compare p.22). It is so very typical of commentators today to see a chasm between faith and reason where in reality none need exist. The fact that our world operates in a rational and logical manner is because it was created by a God who possesses these same characteristics.6 Professor Hamblin clearly understood this.
Professor Hamblin had a reputation for honesty and directness with his patients. He would never sugar-coat the truth of a medical prognosis, but instead preferred to help his patients to face up to and cope with the reality of their situation. Indeed, following his retirement in 2003, he gave of his time freely and tirelessly in an effort to answer questions posed by sufferers of CLL. His interest in blogging helped him to do this as he used blog posts and Internet discussion forums to carry his advice worldwide.
Not the end
Ironically, after all the work Professor Terry Hamblin did to combat the ravages of cancer, it was this disease that led to his death. He is survived by his wife, Diane, and by their two daughters and two sons.
Being a Bible-believing Christian, he would have recognized that he had to do work in this medical field in the first place because we are sinful beings living in a cursed world; a world cursed by sin—just as the Bible teaches (Genesis 3:17–19, Romans 8:19–237). However, praise God, that is not the end of the story. One day God will renew all of creation—and Jesus will defeat the last enemy of death (1 Corinthians 15:26)—and there will be no more need for Professor Hamblin or anyone else to bring healing to the sick or to deal with disease and infirmity. The Christian can indeed look forward to that day.
References and notes
- Hematology is the study of blood, and the diseases of the blood and blood-forming organs. ‘Haematology’ is the British spelling and was Professor Hamblin’s official title. Return to text.
- An autologous stem cell transplant uses cells from the patient’s own body, rather than using cells from a donor (termed an allogenic stem cell transplant). Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., Stem cells and Genesis, J. Creation 15(3):19–26, 2001; creation.com/stem-cells. Return to text.
- It is important for clinicians to know patients’ prognosis (the likely progression of their disease). Hamblin and his team used prognostic markers found on the surface of the malignant blood cells, such as CD38 (a glycoprotein) and mutation status of the immunoglobulin variable heavy chain gene; see Hamblin T.J., et al., Unmutated Ig V(H) genes are associated with a more aggressive form of chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Blood 94:1848-1854, 1999. Return to text.
- See www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/medicine-obituaries/9036815/Terry-Hamblin.html, accessed 17 February 2012. Return to text.
- See for example Sarfati, J., The biblical roots of modern science, Creation 32(4): 32–36, 2010; creation.com/roots. Return to text.
- Smith, H.B., Cosmic and universal death from Adam’s fall: an exegesis of Romans 8:19 23a, J. Creation 21(1):75–85, 2007; creation.com/romans8. Return to text.