Vella, Francis (1929-)

Biochemist and Educator

Born in Malta, 24 July 1929, fourth son (sixth child) of Paul Vella (late) and Helen Giorgio (late) of Sliema, Malta. Educated at St. Joseph Convent, Sliema, Malta Lyceum, and Royal University of Malta. Graduated B.Sc. (1949) and MD (1952). He distinguished himself as a medical student.

Elected Rhodes Scholar for Malta for 1952. Studied Physiology and Biochemistry at St. John's College, University of Oxford. Conducted research in Clinical Biochemistry at the Radcliffe infirmary, Oxford and was May Goodger Scholar at University of Oxford. Graduated B.A. (honours) in 1954 and M.A. in 1958.

Assistant Lecturer and then Lecturer in Biochemistry at Medical College of University of Malaya in Singapore (1956 - 1960), Senior Lecturer and then Reader in Biochemistry at Medical College of University of Khartoum, Sudan (1960 - 1965). Graduated Ph.D. (University of Singapore, 1962) for thesis on Abnormal Haemoglobins in Different Ethnic Groups in Singapore and Malaya. Associate Professor in Biochemistry at Medical College of University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, and then full Professor (in 1971). Visiting Professor at MRC Abnormal Hemoglobins Research Unit at Cambridge University (1973-74), and at Department of Biochemistry, Monash University, Australia (1992).

For many years was Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (UK), Fellow of the Canadian Institute of Chemistry, and Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists (UK).

Preclinical Teacher of the Year at University of Saskatchewan in 1971 and Master Teacher Award of that University in 1989, also Ecumenical Award of Saskatchewan Knights of Columbus in 1971, and Knighthood of the Order of St. Sylvester by Pope Paul VI in 1965.

Served as a member then Chair (1982-1991) of Committee on Education of the International Union of Biochemistry. During this period organised and conducted some 25 workshops on Biochemical Education in many countries and was a frequent invited speaker at national, regional and international scientific meetings. Organised Travel Fellows Courses in connection with IUB Congresses in Amsterdam (1985), Prague (1988), Jerusalem (1991), and of IUBMB Congresses in San Francisco (1997), and in connection with Annual Meetings of the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (1998, 1999, 2000, 2001).

Pioneer in the study of hemoglobinopathies, thalassemias and erythrocyte enzyme deficiencies, having discovered hemoglobins: Q, Norfolk, G Singapore, O Arab, G Saskatoon, E Saskatoon, Deer Lodge, Edmonton and Ottawa, and Hemoglobins Q-H disease. Also determined frequency of these conditions in Canada, Singapore, Malaysia, Sarawak, Sudan and Malta. One of the first to report HbE disease, HbE-thalassemia, HbH disease and connection of G6PD deficiency with severe neonatal jaundice and kernicterus. First to diagnose various forms of thalassemia by chemical laboratory techniques in Singapore and Malaysia, and in Malta.

Published numerous papers on these topics and on biochemical education and produced reports on this subject as it relates to many countries. Chaired committees that published the reports of IUB on Standards for the Ph.D. Degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (1989) and of IUBMB on Standards for the Ph.D. Degree in the Molecular Biosciences (2000). Has been a prolific reviewer of textbooks and technical consultant in the production of several textbooks of Biochemistry.

Served on Editorial Boards of Hemoglobin, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology International (now IUBMB Life) and Biochemical Education (now Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education) and Editorial Advisory Board of the Teaching Professor. Has been Visiting Professor at Department of Biochemistry of University of Kuwait and of El Fateh University, Libya and External Examiner at these and at Department of Biochemistry of Sultan Qaboos University, Oman.

Awarded D.Sc. (honoris causa) by University of Malta (1989).

Retired from University of Saskatchewan in July 1996.

Served as General Secretary of IUBMB during 1998, 1999 and 2000.

Married Lena Goss, of Waddesdon, Bucks UK, in 1956. They have five children; Celia (Caswell), Rosalind (MacDonald), Mark, Pauline (Marlatte), Darwin, and nine grandchildren.

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