Sillence, David Owen
From Faculty of Medicine Online Museum and Archive
MB BS 1970 MD (Melb) FRACP FRCPA FAFPHM(RACP) FAFRM (Hon) Clinical Geneticist (HGSA) MACG
David Sillence became the Foundation Head of the Department of Clinical Genetics at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in 1984, Foundation Professor of Medical Genetics at the University of Sydney in 1988 and the Foundation Head, Discipline of Genetic Medicine in 2005. In addition, he was responsible for the description and international classification of Osteogenesis Imperfecta (Brittle Bone Syndrome), also heading the team which pioneered the measurement of bone density in children in Australia, and the team which pioneered the systematic treatment of osteoporosis in Osteogenesis Imperfecta in children in Australia. He has also been responsible for the discovery and delineation of many new skeletal disorders in children.
After graduating from Medicine in 1970, David took up residency, first at Royal North Shore Hospital, then at Sydney Hospital and thereafter at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne. Concurrently, from 1972, he was a part-time Lecturer in Paediatrics at the School of Medical Record Librarianship at the Lincoln Institute in Melbourne. From 1973, he was Medical Registrar at the Royal Children’s Hospital for two years until he became a Research Fellow at the Royal Children’s Hospital Research Foundation and Genetics Research Unit, and an Associate Research Fellow within the Department of Genetics at the University of Melbourne.
Throughout the mid 1970s, David worked as a part-time Lecturer in Paediatrics at the School of Nursing at the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne, and at the School of Medical Record Librarianship. He also worked as Honorary Assistant Physician at the Royal Children’s Hospital and as Honorary Clinical Assistant at the Royal Women’s Hospital. In 1978, he was awarded a Doctor of Medicine from the University of Melbourne.
David spent the years from 1978 to 1980 at Harbor-UCLA Medical Centre in Torrence, California where he was a Research Fellow, a Member of the Attending Staff, and Assistant Professor in the Paediatrics Division of Medical Genetics. David developed his conviction that “applied basic research underpins the clinical practice of tomorrow” in the formative early years of his training. He was appointed Senior Lecturer in Human Genetics at the University of Sydney in 1980 and was promoted to Associate Professor in 1982, however, David says that “this role was superseded by my simultaneous appointment to a chair which I took on the understanding that I would be able to develop a molecular pathology division within the Department”. David was Acting Head of Public Health Biology from 1982 to 1983 and Professor of Public Health Biology at the University of Sydney and the Commonwealth Institute of Health from 1983 to 1989. He says, “I was the Foundation Chair of the Department of Public Health Biology and built up a fine academic teaching staff and research groups within the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.” In 1982, he and Grant Sutherland were responsible for gaining professional recognition of cytogenetics as a laboratory discipline in Australia. Two years later, David was appointed Foundation Head of the Department of Clinical Genetics at the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children.
With the closure of the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in 1989, David was appointed Head of the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health and became Foundation Professor of Medical Genetics. One of his key roles here was the development of the curriculum for the Master of Medicine (Reproductive Health Sciences and Human Genetics) degree. He remained in this position until 1994, when he was appointed Foundation Coordinator of the Specialist Advisory Committee in Clinical Genetics. From 1995 to 1997, David worked as Head of the Department of Clinical Genetics at the New Children’s Hospital, Parramatta and in 1996, co-founded the Australasian Association of Clinical Geneticists. In 2000 David became Head of the Academic Department of Medical Genetics at the Children’s Hospital, Westmead. Over the past 15 years, 50 Fellows have received their training in clinical genetics through the Department of Clinical Genetics.
Throughout his career, David has made a number of clinical contributions to the field of genetics. He was responsible for the description and international classification of Osteogenesis Imperfecta (Brittle Bone Syndromes) and headed the team which pioneered the systematic treatment of osteoporosis in Osteogenesis Imperfecta in children in Australia. He also led the team which pioneered the measurement of bone density in children in Australia and was responsible for the discovery and delineation of many new skeletal disorders in children.
David outlines his contributions to research over the years:
My doctorate dealt with the genetics and pathogenesis of skeletal disorders in humans. My postdoctoral studies dealt with the pathogenesis of skeletal disorders in both mice and human subjects. I have worked energetically to see the development of research within the Departments of the Western Sydney Genetics Program. Despite a lack of research infrastructure on appointment, it has given me considerable pleasure to see research develop and to witness the appointment first of extremely able clinical geneticists and, in the last year, research trained clinical and laboratory geneticists. Notwithstanding the lack of research infrastructure, the clinical research of the Department has been of a high standard. We have made remarkable contributions through collaboration with the Departments of Radiology, Endocrinology and Cardiology. Colleagues such as Dr Meredith Wilson, Professor John Christodoulou, Professor Kathy North and Dr Lesley Adès have, in their own right, achieved significant standing in the clinical and biochemical genetic research community.
In 2005, David was appointed the Inaugural Head of the Discipline of Genetic Medicine in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Sydney.
Citation: Mellor, Lise (2008) Sillence, David Owen. Faculty of Medicine Online Museum and Archive, University of Sydney.
An alternate version appears in: Mellor, L. 150 Years, 150 Firsts: The People of the Faculty of Medicine (2006) Sydney, Sydney University Press.