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Professor John Armitage receives OBE

Professor Armitage, a head of research and development in our Tissue and Eye Services department, is named in the New Year Honours list for services to corneal transplantation.

29 December 2018

Professor John Armitage, Head of Research and Development for Ocular Tissue, NHS Blood and Transplant, Emeritus Professor, Bristol Medical School, University of Bristol, and former Director of Bristol Tissue Bank, which comprised the Bristol Eye Bank and Bristol Heart Valve Bank, has been awarded an OBE in the New Year Honours List for services to corneal transplantation.

Professor Armitage, speaking about this award, said,

"I am delighted to have my work recognised in this way, which also reflects the significant impact of the work of the Bristol Eye Bank and acknowledges the collective effort of NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) and Bristol University staff, ophthalmology colleagues in Bristol Eye Hospital and hospitals throughout the UK, and the support of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists. However, above all, it is the thoughtfulness and generosity of the families of eye donors, without whom corneal transplantation would not be possible, that truly merit the thanks of patients and their doctors."

After completing a PhD in cardiac cryopreservation and following research posts in Cambridge, UK, and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, USA, Professor Armitage joined the Department of Ophthalmology in Bristol to help set up Bristol Eye Bank and to carry out research into corneal preservation. The Corneal Transplant Service (CTS) was an initiative by Professor David East, then Head of Ophthalmology, and Professor Ben Bradley, former Medical Director of UK Transplant Service, to improve the availability of corneas for transplantation in the UK.

Professor Armitage played a key role in the setting up and running of the CTS Bristol Eye Bank, which provided a national service for storing and supplying corneas for hospitals throughout the UK. A major factor in the success of the CTS was the introduction of the storage of corneas by organ culture at 34°C, which improved the storage time from just a few days at 4°C to 4 weeks. This had a major impact on the logistics of the supply of corneas and transformed corneal transplantation in many hospitals from an out-of-hours emergency procedure to an elective operation that could be planned weeks in advance. The Bristol Eye Bank quickly became one of the largest in Europe.

The Bristol Eye Bank first issued corneas for transplantation in 1986. In 1989, the CTS Manchester Eye Bank was integrated into the service and between them they have since provided corneas for more than 70,000 patients. The eye banks were already funded through NHSBT and, in 2015, they became fully managed within NHSBT Tissue and Eye Services under General Manager Helen Gillan.

Professor Armitage transferred to NHSBT but retains academic links with Bristol University, continuing research into corneal transplant outcomes and immunology. Professor Armitage is the current President of the European Eye Bank Association, of which he is a founder member, and works with the Council of Europe on the quality and safety of tissues and cells for transplantation.