Struan Sutherland

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Struan Keith Sutherland
Born (1936-06-17)June 17, 1936
Sydney, Australia
Died January 11, 2002(2002-01-11) (aged 65)
Residence Australia
Nationality Australian
Fields Toxicology, Pharmacology, Immunology
Institutions Commonwealth Serum Laboratories (1966-1994), University of Melbourne (1994-1999)
Alma mater University of Melbourne
Known for Antivenoms and other treatments for funnel-web spider and snakebite
Notable awards AMA Prize for Medical Research (1977), James Cook Medal of the Royal Society of NSW (1984)

Struan Keith Sutherland AO (17 June 1936 – 11 January 2002) was an Australian medical researcher who developed effective antivenoms and other treatments for people bitten or stung by venomous Australian wildlife.

Early life[edit]

Sutherland was born in Sydney and grew up in Bendigo, Victoria. He studied medicine at the University of Melbourne, graduating in 1960, and served in the Royal Australian Navy from 1962-1965.[1]

The CSL years[edit]

In 1966 Sutherland joined the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories and was soon appointed Head of Immunology Research, a position which he held for 28 years. The death in January 1979 of a young girl, Christine Sturges, from a funnel-web spider bite prompted Sutherland to look for a funnel-web antivenom.[2] Many previous researchers had failed to develop such an antivenom, but Sutherland persevered. In January 1980, a two-year-old boy James Culley was bitten by a funnel-web, and died three days later. This was the spider's 13th recorded victim. Later that year, Sutherland's team produced an effective antivenom[1] and since then no deaths have been recorded from funnelweb bites.[3] The antivenom had its first success when it was used to treat a 49-year-old Sydney man, Gordon Wheatley, who was bitten by a funnel-web on 31 January 1981. He completely recovered after 2 days in hospital.

Sutherland also led research into snakebite treatment, working on antivenoms and developing venom detection kits to help hospital staff determine appropriate treatment for a bite. In the 1970s, he developed the pressure immobilisation technique (a first-aid procedure) for both snake and funnelweb bites,[4][5] replacing treatments such as tourniquets that were often harmful to the patient.

Later years[edit]

In 1994 CSL was privatised and the antivenom research program was closed, prompting Sutherland to leave the organisation for the University of Melbourne. Here he founded the Australian Venom Research Unit, where he worked until 1999 when striatonigral degeneration, a condition similar to Parkinson's disease, forced him to retire. Even in retirement he continued to work, co-authoring three books,[2] including "Venomous Creatures of Australia", which became its publisher's (Oxford University Press) best-selling Australian book.

When he died in 2002, he had already written his own death notice: "Struan would like to inform his friends and acquaintances that he fell off his perch on Friday, 11 January 2002, and is to be privately cremated. No flowers please. Donations to Australian Venom Research Unit, Melbourne University."[6]

Sutherland's autobiography, "A Venomous Life" was published in 1998 by Highland House Publishing, Melbourne (ISBN 1-86447-026-7). He also wrote "Hydroponics For Everyone", about one of his hobbies.

Sutherland had a humorous interview with Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine in Last Chance to See.

Personal[edit]

He was married three times.

Honours[edit]

In the Australia Day honours of 2002, two weeks after his death, Sutherland was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO), effective from 7 February 2000, for "service to science as a leading contributor to research in clinical toxicology and the biology of Australia's venomous creatures, and for the development of the funnel web spider antivenom".[7]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  • Struan K Sutherland, A Venomous Life: the Autobiography of Professor Struan Sutherland (Melbourne: Hyland House, 1998).
  • Mark Whitaker, Spiderman, Weekend Australian Magazine, 13–14 March 1999.