A tribute to Professor David Easty
From that point on, David built up a world-renowned research department. Although his research interests were wide-ranging, he is perhaps particularly noted for his research into herpes infection in the eye and into corneal immunology and graft rejection. He especially encouraged trainee ophthalmologists and cornea fellows, including a number of prominent Bowman Club members, to become involved in research and teaching, notably on the MSc course in ophthalmology he set up for overseas doctors and which ran successfully for many years. David also gave many basic scientists excellent opportunities to pursue research projects and encouraged them to present their work at major national and international conferences.
Apart from David’s significant contributions to clinical ophthalmology, eye research and teaching, one of his major legacies was the support provided to corneal transplantation through his collaboration with the former UK Transplant Service (UKTS), the organ matching and distribution service for the UK and Ireland. The idea was to establish a similar distribution service for corneas. In October 1983, David and Ben Bradley, Medical Director of UKTS, launched the Corneal Transplant Service, with funding from the Iris Fund for the Prevention of Blindness run by Susanna Burr, to distribute eyes from donors to hospitals wherever they were needed in the country. In the meantime, the Bristol Eye Bank was set up, introducing the storage of corneas by organ culture to the UK for the first time. This technique extended corneal storage from four days at 4°C in M-K medium, the best available at the time, to four weeks. David transplanted the first organ cultured corneas from the eye bank in March 1986. In the first year, 59 corneas were distributed to 11 hospitals and within two years almost 1000 corneas a year were being provided to hospitals throughout the UK and Ireland. The Manchester Eye Bank, set up by Alan Ridgway and Andrew Tullo in 1988 became part of this service in 1989.
A major advantage of the extended storage offered by organ culture coupled with the national distribution service through UKTS was that corneal transplantation was transformed from an emergency out-of-hours operation to an elective procedure that could be planned well in advance.
Another important initiative was the passing of the Corneal Tissue Act 1986, which allowed eyes to be removed from deceased donors by trained NHS staff who were not registered medical practitioners. This change greatly increased the chance that eyes would be retrieved from donors whenever they were offered.
The Corneal Transplant Service continued after David’s retirement in 1999, and by 2015, when the Bristol and Manchester eye banks transferred to NHS Blood and Transplant, almost 70,000 corneas had been provided for the treatment of patients. It continues to this day as a fitting tribute to David Easty.
(NB Fuller obituaries by John Illman appeared both in The Times and the British Medical Journal on 18 February.)
Professor David Easty
David Easty, well-known to members of the Bowman Club, died on 11 January this year. John Armitage, Emeritus Professor at Bristol Medical School offers this personal remembrance.
David moved to Bristol in 1972 to take up a consultant post in ophthalmology at Bristol Eye Hospital after working under Barrie Jones at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London. At that time, ophthalmology was part of Bristol University’s Department of Surgery. David was instrumental in establishing ophthalmology as a separate department and he became the first Professor and Head of the new Department of Ophthalmology in 1982.