Sydney-based 1956 medical graduate Professor Bridget Wilcken reflects on a career spanning over six decades and her contributions to newborn screening services.
|Name||Bridget Wilcken (at Edinburgh, Bridget Buchanan)|
|Year of Graduation||1956|
Your time at the University
I chose Edinburgh for the simple reason that when I finished school I was 17. Most people started medical courses in year two in England, but not until the age of 18. I could start a medical course at 17 in Scotland, but not at most English universities then. Edinburgh was great in all sorts of aspects. The teaching seemed excellent, the town was a great place to live, socially, and I enjoyed all aspects. And I enjoyed Scotland – very different from England in subtle ways.
Your experiences since leaving the University
I am currently about to retire from my position as a genetic metabolic physician at Sydney Children’s Hospital, in Australia. This is a specialty involving many rare inherited metabolic disorders, which is expanding rapidly along with the expansion of genomic medicine.
I first worked in Edinburgh, and subsequently at the Hammersmith Hospital and Postgraduate Medical School. Then I married an Australian physician and worked until the birth of our first child and later we went to Sydney. I only worked in locum GP practice over the 11 years during which I had four children. This would never happen nowadays.
I was lucky to get a job within the health department in Sydney, running the newly established newborn screening service. We expanded newborn screening from the disorder Phenylketonuria (PKU) only, initially starting with hypothyroidism in 1976 and then cystic fibrosis (CF) in 1981. CF screening was highly controversial, both locally and internationally, but within two years we had shown a sharp, incontrovertible drop in morbidity and improvements in growth, which we reported in the Lancet. Our work greatly influenced the spread of CF screening throughout the world.
In 1998 we introduced tandem mass technology to our screening: one 3mm dried blood spot testing over 50 disorders. While this was pioneered in the USA, New South Wales (NSW) was the first publicly funded, state-wide programme in the world. We reported our results from the first four years in the New England Journal of Medicine, and later undertook follow up studies. We also undertook a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) research programme, assessing the benefits and long-term outcomes of screening, and contributed new information on many disorders. I was in charge of newborn screening and biochemical genetics in NSW from 1973 until 2009, and remained part of the clinical service until retirement in December 2019.
During all of this time I pursued other research interests, one major one being the disorder classical homocystinuria (cystathionine β-synthase deficiency).
In 1998 we introduced tandem mass technology to our screening: one 3mm dried blood spot testing over 50 disorders. While this was pioneered in the USA, New South Wales (NSW) was the first publicly funded, state-wide programme in the world.
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Bridget Wilcken's profile on ResearchGate (external link)