Internationally recognized physician-scientists joining fight against devastating childhood diseases as hospital expands clinical and basic science research
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital officials today announced the appointment of three internationally recognized physician-scientists to leadership positions.
Mitchell Weiss, M.D., Ph.D., has been named chair of the St. Jude Department of Hematology. He was recruited to the institution from the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) Perelman School of Medicine and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), where he is a professor of pediatrics and holds an endowed chair.
J. Paul Taylor, M.D., Ph.D., who joined the St. Jude Department of Developmental Neurobiology in 2008, has been appointed chair of the new St. Jude Department of Cell and Molecular Biology. He will also hold the Edward F. Barry Endowed Chair in Cell and Molecular Biology.
Kim Nichols, M.D., has been selected to launch the new Division of Hereditary Cancer Predisposition in the St. Jude Department of Oncology. She currently directs the CHOP Pediatric Hereditary Cancer Predisposition Program. She is also an associate professor of pediatrics at the UPenn Perelman School of Medicine.
“These gifted physician-scientists will enhance and expand our ability to translate discoveries and insight gained in the laboratory into clinical advances against diseases that continue to devastate children and families,” said Dr. William E. Evans, St. Jude director and chief executive officer. The appointments followed a national search.
The announcement comes as St. Jude takes steps to broaden its basic and translational research programs and capitalize on its discoveries from the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital – Washington University Pediatric Cancer Genome Project, said James Downing, M.D., St. Jude scientific director.
In his research, Weiss has advanced understanding of blood development and the alterations that can lead to life-threatening problems. He will lead a department that is internationally recognized for its role in advancing understanding and treatment of sickle cell disease, bone marrow failure, hemophilia, immune deficiencies and other non-malignant blood disorders. Those contributions include therapies to extend and improve the quality of life for children with sickle cell disease, gene therapy for treating hemophilia B, immune system deficiency and metabolic disorders.
“The scientific and clinical expertise at St. Jude has the power to transform the outlook for children and families coping with a variety of non-malignant blood disorders,” said Weiss, who plans to use lessons learned from the hospital’s pediatric cancer survivorship and genetic programs as a template for working with patients and families to improve life-long care of sickle cell anemia and other chronic blood disorders.
The Department of Cell and Molecular Biology will strengthen the hospital’s basic science research related to cell biology and advance understanding of how normal cell processes are altered in cancer and other life-threatening childhood diseases, Downing said. “Such insight is essential for rationale development of novel therapies,” he said.
Taylor, a board-certified neurologist and specialist in neurogenetics, will chair the department. His research has advanced understanding of the genetic and molecular basis of neurodegenerative diseases, including inherited disorders that strike in childhood. Taylor is a leader in the field of RNA biology. RNA molecules are involved in a host of vital cell functions, including translating DNA into the proteins that do the work of cells.
“The new department will serve as a hub, facilitating scientific interactions across the St. Jude campus and providing innovative, cutting-edge approaches to enhance the ability of researchers to pursue the answers that are the foundations for clinical advances,” Taylor said.
Nichols is a pediatrician and a global leader in the emerging field of childhood hereditary cancer predisposition. She will lead a division focused on the estimated 5 to 10 percent of U.S. pediatric cancer patients whose disease is associated with an inherited cancer-predisposing gene mutation. The division will combine basic scientific and clinical research with patient care to advance understanding of the genetic basis of inherited cancer risk, develop preventive therapies and help patients and families understand, manage and possibly reduce their risk. “The division will function as a state-of-the-art national and international resource for patients and families with heritable cancer syndromes as well as the health care professionals who care for them and groups that advocate on behalf of patients,” Nichols said.
Downing added: “The efforts of Dr. Nichols and this division will tie into the Pediatric Cancer Genome Project and the hospital’s plans for using genomics to inform and guide patient care.” The Pediatric Cancer Genome Project has sequenced the complete normal and cancer genomes of more than 700 pediatric patients with some of the most aggressive and least understood childhood cancers. The findings have provided a clearer picture of the genetic basis of childhood cancer as well as possible treatment targets.
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