Back to Ask the Diabetes Team In Memory of Dr. Donough O'Brien

Dr. Donough O'Brien, one of CWD's first "DTeam" members, passed away on March 16, 2004.

Dr. Donough O'Brien was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1923. He attended Rugby School and Cambridge University. His medical training included residencies at the Postgraduate Medical School at the University of London, Guy's Hospital in London, and The Hospital for Sick Children in London. He also held a fellowship at the Boston Children's Hospital in Neonatalogy.

Since 1957, Dr. O'Brien had served in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. He earned full professorship in 1964. His interests were mostly in metabolic diseases, including diabetes. He was the first Executive Director of the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes in Denver.

Since 1996, Dr. O'Brien gladly answered over a thousand questions sent in by CWD readers from around the world. No topic was too complex or too simple, and each answer was clear, thoughtful, and helpful.

Dr. O'Brien's wisdom, wit, and generosity will be greatly missed.

  Dr. O'Brien
Left to Right: Drs. Peter Chase, Bob Elliot, and Donough O'Brien

From George S. Eisenbarth, MD, PhD, Executive Director, Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes:

Donough O'Brien, MD, emeritus professor, past executive director of the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes and long-term leader in the department of Pediatrics of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center passed away March 16,2004. Donough O'Brien had a remarkable scientific and medical career and was an active contributor to children's welfare and the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes till his death. His career spans important advances in the care, and in particular in our understanding of childhood diabetes, that he helped to set in motion.

To quote Richard Krugman, dean of the School of Medicine of the University of Colorado:
"Donough O'Brien's contributions to child health have spanned four decades. He has built outstanding clinical, research and education programs in pediatric, metabolic disease and generations of children have benefited."
Dr. O'Brien was born in Scotland. He completed his medical training in Cambridge, England, where he became a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians. In 1952-53, he received fellowship training in Pediatrics at Children's Hospital, Boston, studying under two giants in pediatrics, Dr. James Gamble and Clement Smith, whose work revolutionized the approach to infant care, and in particular the field of salt and water balance in infants. In 1957 he was recruited to the University of Colorado as Professor of Pediatrics. As professor of Pediatrics, his early efforts were in the field of premature newborn infant care. At the time clinical laboratory measurements used large volumes of blood and had not been adapted to small children. He developed one of the first pediatric micro-chemistry laboratories in the world, and was an author of a widely used textbook on pediatric micro-chemistry (titled Pediatric Microchemistry).

He was one of the first to apply an amino acid analyzer and mass spectrometry to childhood metabolic disease. He established both the University Pediatric Dialysis unit and the first University fellowship program to train pediatric subsepecialists. He established the pediatric Clinical Research Center of the University of Colorado which is currently the longest continuously funded such Center in the United States. In 1970 he founded the Kennedy Stolinsky Center for metabolic disease and mental retardation. In 1977 Dr. O'Brien was instrumental in the creation of the Children's Diabetes Foundation and in 1980 the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes, which he directed from 1983 to 1991. Dr. O'Brien was the first executive director of the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes. Under his watch the Center recruited world renowned immunologist Kevan Lafferty from Australia, who established a pioneering program in islet transplantation, and Peter Chase (author of the Pink Panther book on childhood diabetes- Understanding Diabetes) became the first Clinic Division Director. He was instrumental in recruiting the current Executive Director of the Barbara Davis Center, George Eisenbarth, and remained an active faculty member. His efforts as an emeritus professor included development of the web-site of the Barbara Davis Center and being a major contributor to the "ask the experts" section of the childrenwithdiabetes web site. His interest and energy never declined and at the Barbara Davis Center he would sit in the first row every week at every Research in Progress presentation, thereby staying abreast of current research in the field of childhood diabetes.

Dr. O'Brien received multiple honors including the educator of the year Award from the Colorado chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and was honored by the Children's Diabetes Foundation in a Tribute Dinner in 2001. As a lasting tribute a fellowship for young physician scientists (the O'Brien fellowship) was established.

Dr. O'Brien was a unique individual with a career spanning five decades. He was a role model as a physician scientist and an effective advocate for the care of children, creating institutions that will continue his good works.

March 17, 2004

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