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Geoff Farrell was born and grew up in Hobart, Tasmania, and graduated in the first class of the University of Tasmania Medical School in 1970. He started training in gastroenterology at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, in 1974 and then moved to Brisbane with Lawrie Powell for 3 years, completing a MD on the effects of liver disease on drug metabolism.
His interest in laboratory research in the liver was cemented by a 3 year post-doc with Rudi Schmid in San Francisco, before returning in 1980 to the new Westmead Hospital in Western Sydney to establish an academic research unit in hepatology. He was promoted to a Personal Chair within the University of Sydney in 1992, and the following year was appointed to the recently created Robert W Storr Chair in Hepatic Medicine. The Storr Liver Unit is now within the Westmead Millennium Institute, a new laboratory based research institute at Westmead Hospital near Parramatta in Sydney.
Geoff's laboratory interests are in hepatic gene regulation, cell biology of the liver, pathogenesis of liver diseases such as hepatitis C, NASH and liver cancer, and the control of liver regeneration and apoptosis. Clinical interests are in NASH, natural history and management of chronic hepatitis B and C, and drug-induced liver disease.
- What made you decide to become a hepatologist?
- I think I was destined to become a hepatologist when I developed hepatitis A at the age of nine. This seemed to evoke a flash of inspiration the first time I saw a yellow patient as a junior medical student.
- Who was the teacher you admired the most?
- Professor Albert Baiki, my mentor in Hobart who was actually a hematologist. I learned from him the skills and philosophies of the consummate physician as well as getting a sense of medical history, that things could change with medical research.
- Which research paper influenced you the most?
- The discovery of the hepatitis C virus by Michael Houghton and his team published in Science in early 1989. The discovery of hepatitis C radically changed hepatological practice in hepatology, transforming it from an almost esoteric academic speciality to mainstream clinical medicine of common chronic diseases for which there are effective treatments.
- What is the most important fact that you have discovered?
- The most important fact that I have discovered is that cytochrome P4502E1 is overexpressed in NASH and contributes to oxidative stress. While this may not be the whole answer in NASH, it was the first discovery to explain how two diseases (alcoholic hepatitis and NASH) could look alike and yet apparently have difference causes.
- What is the biggest mistake that you have made?
- To get married while a medical student!
- What is your unfulfilled ambition?
- To win Olympic gold and the Nobel Prize for physiology and medicine (but I have attended both ceremonies as an observer).
- What is your greatest regret?
- My greatest regret is either not to have been around when my first kids were teenagers, or being around when my second lot of kids were teenagers. Fortunately, I don't really have any regrets because I am still good friends with all of them.
- How do you relax?
- Sailing a small boat (a laser), and windsurfing. Travelling, and bushwalking.
- What is your favorite sport?
- My favorite sport is bike riding.
- What is your best place in the world?
- The best place in the world is Minnie Water. I'm not going to tell you where that is because one of its advantages is that there is rarely more than 10 people on a 1ákm long beach.
- What is your favorite film?
- My favourite film recently is La Vie est Belle (Life is Beautiful).
- What car do you drive?
- I drive a Daihatsu Applause, but only because I can't afford a BMW!
- What is your best electronic 'toy'?
- I hate electronic toys. My favourite toy is an old fashioned axe because I love splitting wood (lets out lots of aggression, but we don't need fires for very long in Sydney!).
- What book are you reading at the moment?
- At present I am reading a collection of poems by Les Murray, one of Australia's great poets (who incidentally had a liver abscess a few years ago and was looked after by one of my colleagues!). I have been reading Les for nearly a year but have read a few novels in between including Jan Coetze's Disgrace. I agree with Salman Rushdi (one of my favorite authors) that Coetze just doesn't understand! A needlessly sour view of human nature.
- Why did you get in involved in GastroHep.com?
- I'm not sure why I got involved in GastroHep.com but I love medical communication and hope to play an active role in the website next year when I finish writing my present book, on hepatitis C and liver health. It is designed mainly for general practitioners and intelligent lay people.