By Anne McLeod, MD
The Wallace H. Coulter Award for Lifetime Achievement, first awarded by the American Society of Hematology (ASH) in 2007, recognizes an individual who has demonstrated a lasting commitment to the field of hematology through outstanding contributions to education, research, and practice. Dr. Coulter was an engineer, inventor, and entrepreneur who applied engineering principles to solving biomedical problems. ASH and the Coulter Foundation established the Wallace H. Coulter Award for Lifetime Achievement in Hematology to honor Wallace’s legacy by recognizing others who have had a significant impact on the field of hematology. This afternoon, past ASH President Dr. H. Franklin Bunn will receive this award for his leadership in advancing the field of hemoglobin research over the past four decades.
When asked to describe his career, Dr. Bunn stated, “From the get-go, my biggest challenge has been to do meaningful and productive research and, at the same time, maintain a respectable level of competence in clinical hematology.” Any trainee or colleague who has ever had the honor of learning from Dr. Bunn knows he has certainly attained this goal and has always remained a caring mentor and exceptional teacher.
Dr. Bunn is currently director of hematology research at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA. In addition to his ongoing research, Dr. Bunn served as ASH president in 1992, participated in many National Institutes of Health Advisory groups and councils, was Associate Editor of Blood, and authored two textbooks. As Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, he is an inspiring teacher to medical students and a wise mentor to fellows and junior faculty. “Although my focus has been largely in laboratory research, my most enduring gratification has been the fellowship of two generations of outstanding hematology trainees at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the opportunity to see their careers develop,” Dr. Bunn said.
As an intern at New York Hospital in the early 1960s, Dr. Bunn discovered his passion for hematology while caring for a young patient with end-stage beta thalassemia major. “I followed Alfred in clinic monthly until his death two years later. Alfred’s gallantry taught me a lot about how patients can endure and prevail over unimaginable challenges and stresses.” The complexities of his patient’s disease fascinated and inspired him, ultimately leading him to conduct 30 years of research on hemoglobin. Dr. Bunn earned his undergraduate degree in chemistry from Harvard College in 1957 and his MD from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 1961. He believes his most important research contribution to date has been the discovery of the structure and biosynthesis of glycated hemoglobins (e.g., hemoglobin A1c) and their relevance to diabetes.
Dr. Bunn’s research has taken many unexpected turns. From 1992 to 2002, Dr. Bunn’s lab focused on oxygen-dependent gene expression and molecular adaptation to hypoxia. During the last seven years, he and his lab have been working on a novel flavoheme protein that plays an important role in fatty-acid desaturation and the production of insulin in pancreatic islets. Another focus for this year has been the undertaking of a textbook for medical students with co-author Jon Aster, titled Pathobiology of Blood Disorders.
For his many contributions to the field of hematology, Dr. Bunn will receive the 2009 Wallace H. Coulter Award for Lifetime Achievement in Hematology at 1:30 p.m. today in Hall F. “ASH has long been an integral and consistently positive part of my professional life. The associations that I have made at ASH and at the journal Blood have contributed enormously to my viability as a scientist and physician,” Dr. Bunn said. Indeed, Dr. Bunn has been an outstanding contributor to the lives of his patients, the careers of countless hematologists, and to ASH.
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