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Gunz, Friedrich Walter (Frederick) (1914–1990)

by Brenda Heagney

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Friedrich Walter (Frederick) Gunz (1914-1990), haematologist, was born on 17 November 1914 at Munich, Germany, son of Hugo Gunz, lawyer, and his wife Johanna, née Loewenfeld. His secondary education was at the Herder Oberschule in Berlin. In 1933 his family, of Jewish extraction, moved to London to avoid Nazi persecution. Although he had only limited English on arrival in England, after attending a cramming course he matriculated and gained an entrance scholarship to St Bartholomew’s Hospital medical school, University of London (MB, BS, 1939; MD, 1942), where he won the gold medal for medicine. There was no trace of an accent in his adopted language for the rest of his life.

An internee, Gunz was sent to Canada for eighteen months in 1940-41. He had wished to join the British Army. In 1942 after his return to England, he became a member of the Royal College of Physicians (fellow 1969). He was an assistant clinical pathologist (1943-46) at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, and then held (1946-50) a Saltwell research studentship at the University of Cambridge (Ph.D., 1949). The research he conducted there in the department of radiotherapeutics started his career in leukaemia research. He had married Joan Phelps Tuckey on 23 September 1944 at Holy Trinity parish church, Cambridge, and was naturalised in 1946.

At the end of the 1940s the North Canterbury Hospital Board in New Zealand was seeking to update and expand pathology services. In 1950 Gunz went to Christchurch to take up the position of haematologist at the hospital. He expanded the blood transfusion service, introducing a mobile donor unit for which he drove the bus to each township in the area, and set up a tumour research unit, later to become a cytogenetics unit of which he was the director (1962-67). With Peter Fitzgerald and Angela Adams he achieved international recognition in 1962 for describing the role of the abnormal Christchurch chromosome in lymphocytic leukaemia. In 1954-66 he served part time in the Royal New Zealand Army Medical Corps, Territorial Force, rising to temporary major.

During his career Gunz published more than sixty papers on clinical research, treatment and palliative care but his international fame rested largely on the book Leukemia (1958), written with William Dameshek. During sabbatical leave in 1956 at Dameshek’s laboratory in Boston, United States of America, he had pursued his interest in this disease, particularly its aetiology and chromosome abnormalities. Dameshek invited him to collaborate on the work. It was a pioneering account by two pre-eminent haematologists of the origins of leukaemia, the manifestations of its various forms, and its treatment. Several editions have been produced. In his lucid style, Gunz also contributed chapters to works on haematology and cancer research.

In 1967 Gunz moved to Australia to become director of medical research at the Kanematsu Memorial Institute at Sydney Hospital. As well as establishing a haematology unit, he was involved with renal medicine, transplantation, blood-pressure research, haemorheology and cancer immunology, showing his talent for guiding and integrating research over apparently diverse fields. He also managed, in an inner-city hospital chronically short of space, to double the size of the department and to oversee the construction of a five-storey extension for the institute. His wife worked with him at the Kanematsu on a study of the familial incidence of leukaemia. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians in 1967.

After retirement in 1980 Gunz devoted his energies to support groups and palliative care services for cancer patients. He established a pioneer support service for the northern metropolitan health region of Sydney at the Royal North Shore Hospital. President (1981-86) of the New South Wales Palliative Care Association, in 1985 he became chairman of the patient care committee of the New South Wales State Cancer Council. That year the Australian Cancer Society awarded him its gold medal. In 1981-90 he edited Cancer Forum. His humanity was also evident in his support of the Wayside Chapel.

Gunz was active in the New Zealand Society of Pathologists, and in the (Royal) College of Pathologists of Australia (from 1979, Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia). He served the college as chief examiner in haematology from 1967, as chairman (1973-77) of the board of censors, and as editor (1978-85) of the college’s journal, Pathology, with which Joan ably assisted him. In 1986 the college gave him its distinguished fellows’ award. He was a friendly, distinguished and courteous man, who had a keen interest in music. Survived by his wife (d.2002), their two daughters and a son, he died on 30 October 1990 at St Leonards and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • J. C. Wiseman and R. J. Mulhearn (eds), Roll of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, vol 2 (1994)
  • Lives of the Fellows of the Royal College of Physicians of London (2000)
  • Pathology (Sydney), vol 23, no 1, 1991, p 80
  • New Zealand Medical Journal, 27 Feb 1991, p 82.

Citation details

Brenda Heagney, 'Gunz, Friedrich Walter (Frederick) (1914–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gunz-friedrich-walter-frederick-12575/text22643, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 21 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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