Posted on September 9th, 2009

By Walter Jayawardhana

Sunitha Wickramasingha who was an expert on red blood cell formation and the diseases connected with the process when it goes wrong and the eldest brother of Professor Chandra Wickremesinghe has died.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Dr. Wickremasinghe was the son of a famous Cambride mathematician and the brother of other top academic men, Dayal Wickremesinghe , Professor of mathematics of the Australian National University, Canberra , Kumar Wickremesinghe , Professor of nano technology at the University of California at irvine.

The other brother Chandra is the chief proponent of the theory called Panspermia , that life began in space and travelled on comets seeding planets in the universe and currently Professor at Cardiff University Wales.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ He inspired and helped numerous students from Sri Lanka to study, haematology and was named in 1999 as an honoraary fellow of the Sri Lankan College of haematologists.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ The following is an obituary published by the Guardian newspaper of London on September 9 2009.

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Sunitha Wickramasinghe, who has died aged 67, was an expert on red blood cell formation and the diseases that occur when the process goes wrong, such as rare forms of anaemia. He was professor of haematology at Imperial College London and St Mary’s hospital, and, after he formally retired, was visiting professor at Oxford University. By a sad irony he died of myeloma, a cancer of the bone-marrow tissue where blood cells are formed.

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Sir David Weatherall, founder of the Institute of Molecular Medicine, Oxford, described Wickramasinghe as “an internationally respected figure in the ultrastructure of the bone marrow, particularly in inherited disorders of the red cell. He made very important contributions to our understanding of the patterns of defective red-cell maturation and ineffective formation in thalassaemia and related disorders.

“His meticulous and often highly innovative approaches to the electron microscopic examination of the marrow were seminal. If one ever had an unusual or completely novel patient with inherited anaemia, it was always to Sunitha that one turned for ultra-structural studies of the marrow.”

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Wickramasinghe was born in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), and educated at Royal college and Ceylon University. He initially wanted to be a zoologist but studied medicine instead: he qualified as a doctor in 1964. He then went to Cambridge University, funded by a Gulbenkian studentship, where he was awarded a PhD for research. From there he moved to Leeds University medical school, starting as clinical research fellow in 1969, and rising to senior lecturer. His main research focus was blood-cell formation in bone marrow, and he published his first book on the subject, Human Bone Marrow, in 1975.

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-In 1978 he was appointed reader in haematology at St Mary’s hospital medical school, in London, which became Imperial College medical school a year later, and he served as deputy dean for two years. “He built up the department,” said Professor Barbara Bain, his successor, “and developed the diagnostic lab.” In 2000, Imperial College was trying to consolidate its research to the Hammersmith hospital site and offered him voluntary redundancy. He retired as emeritus professor and took a position at Oxford University at what was by then the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine. His multiple myeloma was diagnosed around the time of his move.

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-The diagnosis initially did little to slow his clinical and research work as visiting professor and honorary consultant haematologist at the Radcliffe hospitals. He retired in 2008, when his myeloma was well advanced and caused pain on movement. He took an active interest in his treatment.

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-While at St Mary’s, he had established a BSc degree course on haematology, and his love of teaching meant he encouraged and inspired undergraduate and research students, many from Sri Lanka. He had time for people irrespective of their status, and his unassuming manner and astute clinical judgment endeared him to patients and colleagues alike. He collaborated with colleagues in the US, China, Japan, Sweden, Italy, Germany, Thailand and Sri Lanka. His awards included a Cambridge ScD (1984), and fellowships of the Institute of Biology (1982), Royal College of Pathologists (1986) and the Royal College of Physicians (1991).

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Famed internationally, he was a guest lecturer at Ferrara University, Italy, in the 1990s, and was made an honorary fellow of the Sri Lankan college of haematologists (1999), having given an oration there four years earlier.

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-A prolific researcher and writer, he published more than 200 research papers, mainly on abnormal red blood cell formation and the diseases this caused. In addition to writing Human Bone Marrow, he edited two textbooks on blood and bone marrow pathology, and co-wrote Lecture Notes on Haematology from the fifth edition (1991) through to the eighth (2008).

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Wickramasinghe was a keen photographer, and enjoyed travel, especially to archaeological sites, and wildlife. He was a gastronome, though his cooking was confined to paella and Jane Grigson’s recipe for the puddings he made from the quinces he grew in his garden in Maidenhead, Berkshire.

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-He came from a distinguished family: his father was the top Cambridge maths graduate of his year and left the Indian civil service for an academic career in Sri Lanka. His elder brother, Chandra, is professor of astrobiology at Cardiff University; his younger brother, Dayal, is professor of mathematics at the Australian National University, Canberra, and his youngest brother, Kumar, is professor of nanotechnology at the University of California at Irvine.

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-He married Priyanthi Soummia Fernando in 1968. She survives him, along with their son and two daughters.

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¢ Sunitha Nimal Wickramasinghe, haematologist, born 2 July 1941; died 28 June 2009ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚

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