Global health expert returns to his roots for research collaboration

Back Consultant Bariatric Surgeon, Mr Peter Small, Dr Diana Mansour, Professor Tony Alabaster, Professor of Public Health Jonathan Ling, Bariatric Pharmacist Lindes Callejas-Diaz. Front: Professor Ian Fraser and Dr Yitka Graham

Published on 18 July 2018

Professor Ian Fraser, an authority in the field of Reproductive Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, based at the University of New South Wales, Australia, received an Honorary Doctorate of Science from the University of Sunderland. He has also been appointed a Visiting Professor to the Faculty of Health Sciences and Wellbeing, linking up with the University’s established research areas in bariatric surgery and women’s health.

The appointment reinforces Professor Fraser’s personal connection to the area he grew up in, thanks to his parents lasting legacy when they moved to the region in 1956. His father, Dr Stewart Fraser, was Senior Consultant in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the former Harton General Hospital in South Shields for many years. His mother, Dr Ellis Fraser, was a GP in South Shields and Sunderland, with expertise in the illnesses of disadvantaged children and victims of sexual assault. The Ellis Fraser Rape and Sexual Assault Centre was established in her name upon her retirement in 1991 and is now incorporated into the REACH Ellis Fraser Suite in the Children’s Centre in Durham Road, Sunderland. The couple retired to Whitburn.

Professor Fraser explained: “To receive an Honorary Doctorate in Science from the University in the city where you did some important growing up is an honour which you would never contemplate! In reality it is an award to a whole team of colleagues, trainees and challenging scientific competitors who stimulate you to think differently and look deeper!

“I have worked in a number of different Universities – Edinburgh,  Oxford,  Sydney,  New South Wales and now Sunderland – and none is more exciting at this point in time than Sunderland with its famous pharmacy and nursing schools and the novel directions occasioned by the start of a new medical school – a rare situation indeed!”

He added: “This area is very much one of my ‘homes’, I visit at least once a year and take the time to visit old haunts. I do enjoy driving past the ‘old Harton Hospital’ where my father worked. I learned a great deal from him, he was an outstanding ‘bedside doctor’ with a keen interest in the personal disease issues of all his patients. There is presently a major modern move towards ‘personalised medicine’ – my father was doing this more than 60 years ago!” 

The first visit to the University provided Professor Fraser an opportunity to share his expertise, and discuss collaborative research with Sunderland academic Dr Yitka Graham, whose core interests are bariatric surgery, sexual and reproductive health and health services research. Also attending were Professor Tony Alabaster (Academic Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences and Wellbeing) andProfessor of Public Health Jonathan Ling. The collaboration also included City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust Consultant Bariatric Surgeon, Professor Peter Small and Bariatric Pharmacist Lindes Callejas-Diaz, and Dr Diana Mansour, Consultant in Community Gynaecology and Reproductive Healthcare at Newcastle-upon-Tyne Hospitals.

Professor Fraser said: “Yitka and I have had substantial careers in aspects of women’s health and she has an ongoing passion for improving the sexual and reproductive health of women, currently through combining it with her established research in bariatric surgery. I have been fortunate enough to have pursued a broad clinical and research career with particular interests in understanding, and treating, the very common disturbances of menstruation, menstrual pain, menopause and endometriosis. I would hope that linking all these interests will allow some novel approaches to ongoing research into women’s health, obesity and bariatric surgery.”

Asked why he has chosen to collaborate alongside the University and City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, Professor Fraser explained: “Obesity can have a detrimental effect on sexual and reproductive health. There is evidence to suggest that bariatric surgery has potential to play a significant role in improving the sexual and reproductive health of women with obesity and this is an area ripe for research. 

“There is currently only a small body of research into the effects of bariatric surgery and women's health.  Yitka, along with her bariatric surgical colleagues, Peter Small, Kamal Mahawar and Lindes Callejas-Diaz, with colleagues in sexual and reproductive health, including Diana Mansour, Ian Aird and Henk-Jan Out have already established themselves in the field of what the group has coined 'Bariatric Gynaecology', publishing about contraception and infertility.” 

Dr Yitka Graham, who published the findings of her three-year PhD study exploring patients’ experiences after weight-loss surgery at the UK’s largest NHS bariatric surgical unit, commented: “As nearly two thirds of women undergoing bariatric surgery in the UK are in their reproductive years, we need to know more about the impact of bariatric surgery on sexual and reproductive health. Our collaboration draws upon a wide range of expertise which we will bring together to develop research with potential to make a real difference to the lives of our patients.”

Consultant Bariatric Surgeon, Mr Peter Small, also a Visiting Professor at Sunderland, added: “It is a real privilege to be able to work with Professor Fraser. His extensive knowledge and research activities in reproduction and infertility will greatly benefit our bariatric gynaecology team in Sunderland.”

About Professor Ian Fraser

Professor Fraser is currently the Conjoint Professor (Reproductive Medicine) at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, and Honorary Sub-Specialist in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney. He held a Personal Chair (Professorship in Reproductive Medicine) from 1993 to 2014 at the University of Sydney.   He was Foundation President of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in 1998-2000, and Past-Honorary Secretary of the International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics (FIGO; 2006-2012). 

He is Past-Chair of the FIGO Menstrual Disorders Committee.  He is an Officer in the Order of Australia (AO; in the Queen’s Birthday Honours 2002) and has a Doctorate of Science from Edinburgh University. He is the only gynaecologist in Australia who has a Doctorate of Science.

He has held high scientific advisory positions on contraception, abnormal uterine bleeding and endometriosis with the World Health Organization (WHO), the Population Council, New York and several other international organisations. He has over 450 peer-reviewed publications in the scientific and medical literature, and has continuing research interests in menstrual disorders, endometriosis and contraception.

He trained in Medicine and in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Oxford before moving to the University of Sydney in Australia in 1975.

About Dr Ellis Fraser and Dr Stewart Fraser

Born in Edinburgh in 1917 into a medical family, Dr Ellis Fraser went on to study the profession at the city's university where she met her husband-to-be Stewart. He later became a consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at South Tyneside General Hospital.

The pair were married soon after she graduated in 1941, but with the outbreak of war, Mr Fraser, who died 22 years ago, was posted abroad. His wife went to work with her father in general practice in Carlisle. After the war, the couple set up home in Grosvenor Road, South Shields, before moving to Nicholas Avenue, Whitburn. They also had three sons, Ian and Malcolm, from Morpeth, Northumberland; and Colin, who died at the age of 40 in 1997.

Alongside her working life as a GP, Dr Fraser was also a Justice of the Peace. Dr Fraser spent more than 40 years as a Red Cross medical officer, first aid trainer, lecturer and examiner, and was a divisional director for many years – she enjoyed a trip to Buckingham Palace in 1970 in recognition of this. She also worked in family planning for more than 35 years, and was the local medical officer for Marks & Spencer for more than 18 years. In 1983, after retiring from General Practice, Dr Fraser responded to a request from Northumbria Police for women doctors to join the Police Doctors Scheme.

The next eight years saw her involved in services to help child abuse and rape victims in Sunderland, where she pioneered a then-new and more sympathetic approach to examining and helping victims of sexual assault.This culminated in a purpose-built women's rape victim support centre being named in her honour in 1991.

Her initial work as a police surgeon led to her examining 520 victims of alleged sexual abuse, 80 per cent of whom were children under 15. Mr Fraser gave her huge support, particularly towards the end of her career, in this field – recording statistics on his computer, helping her write papers, giving television interviews and providing moral support – especially when she was called upon to give evidence in the high profile cases.

Dr Ellis Fraser eventually retired in 1989 at the age of 71, she passed away in 2010.