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Professor Robert Turner, MA, MD, FRCP DTU Logo

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1938-1999

Professor of Medicine
University of Oxford

Robert Turner's sudden and unexpected demise on the 1 August 1999 significantly diminished the diabetes community world-wide. After training at Cambridge and qualifying at the Middlesex Hospital in 1963, he first took an interest in diabetes in 1967. In 1971 he worked in the Endocrine and Diabetes Units at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, USA before returning to Oxford as a lecturer in the Nuffield Department of Medicine. In 1976 he founded the University of Oxford Diabetes Research Laboratories which has since become one of the largest and most successful clinical research units in Europe.

Robert was a visionary, an innovator and a fierce supporter of scientific method in clinical practice. Many projects he undertook were only practicable because of his extraordinary ability to embrace and work creatively with different scientific disciplines to mutual benefit. His interests encompassed physiological studies to identify the lesions that cause diabetes, studies of patients with type 2 diabetes and their relatives to identify the heritability of different features of the disease and, more recently, identification of both the genes that contribute to the disease and its complications. Robert worked extensively also on the development and assessment of new pharmacological therapies for type 2 diabetes, undertook epidemiological studies and produced mathematical models for diabetes including the Homeostasis Model Assessment (HOMA) technique and a risk assessment simulation model based on UKPDS data.

His greatest achievement was the unveiling of the results of the 20 year United Kingdom Prospective Diabetes Study (UKPDS) at the EASD meeting in Barcelona in 1998 and the simultaneous publication of five papers containing the main results in the Lancet and British Medical Journal. The study received instant international acclaim and, in June 1999, Robert received the Charles Best Award from the American Diabetes Association on behalf of the study. It is characteristic of Robert that even as the UKPDS was being presented he was already planning an equally ambitious project to help implement and evaluate its findings.

Above all, Robert was a caring physician and leader. Patients, departmental staff, colleagues around the world and the many physicians and scientists he has helped train, can testify to his charisma, thoughtfulness and unstinting support whenever required.