On Friday 10 March 2023, the Department hosted Professor Sir Chris Whitty KCB FMedSci to deliver "Thinking through epidemics" in honour of our former Waynflete Professor of Physiology and recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, Sir Charles Sherrington.
Head of Department Professor David Paterson said: "We were delighted to welcome back one of our own former students, Professor Sir Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England, to deliver this years’ Sherrington Public Understanding of Science Prize lecture. Chris gave a gripping account on the history of pandemics leading to five key strategic principles that are needed to successfully fight a pandemic. The medical students and academics present were enthralled by this erudite lecture".
Professor Whitty completed his BA in Physiological Science in 1988 at the then Laboratory of Physiology and Pembroke College. He achieved his BM BCh in Medicine in 1991 at Wolfson College, where he was also the founding chair of the National Postgraduate Committee. In 2011, the University of Oxford awarded Professor Whitty a DSc in Medical Science.
Professor Whitty is presently Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for England, the UK government’s Chief Medical Adviser and head of the public health profession. He represents the UK on the Executive Board of the World Health Organization. He has been lauded for guiding the country through the Covid-19 pandemic, during which he appeared regularly on televised news conferences and gave evidence to parliamentary bodies. Alongside this critical work, Professor Whitty treated Covid patients as part of his role as NHS Consultant Physician at University College London Hospitals (UCLH) and the Hospital for Tropical Diseases.
Professor Whitty also brought his extensive experience as an epidemiologist to last Friday's Lecture. He has undertaken research and worked as a doctor in Africa and Asia, as well as the UK. He was Professor of Public and International Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), where he remains an honorary professor, before becoming CMO. Also prior to his role as CMO, Professor Whitty was the Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department for International Development (DFID), which included leading technical work on the West Africa Ebola outbreak and other international emergencies.
Professor Whitty's experience reflects some of the early work of Sir Charles Sherrington, prior to his tenure as Waynflete Professor of Physiology at the University of Oxford from 1913. In 1885, Sherrington travelled first to Spain, then Italy in 1886, to study an outbreak at cholera. The material he obtained was examined in Berlin under the supervision of Virchow, who later sent Sherrington to Robert Koch for short technical course, which extended to a year-long research project in bacteriology. In 1887, Sherrington was appointed Lecturer in Systematic Physiology at St. Thomas’s Hospital, London, and in 1891, he was appointed as superintendent of the Brown Institute for Advanced Physiological and Pathological Research of the University of London.
Following his lecture, Professor Whitty took time to meet with Oxford's students and research staff at an afternoon cream tea reception held in the Sherrington reception foyer.