Q&A with David Williams, President of the American Society of Hematology
December 08, 2014
David A. Williams, MD, Chief of the Division of
Hematology/Oncology and Director of Clinical and Translational Research at
Boston Children’s Hospital and Associate Chairman of the Department of
Pediatric Oncology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, was recently inducted as
President of the American Society of Hematology. ASH, the world’s largest
professional society of hematologists, promotes research, patient care,
education, training and advocacy. Its official journal, Blood, is the
most cited peer-reviewed publication in the field.
Williams is also Leland Fikes Professor of Pediatrics at
Harvard Medical Schooland Director of the
Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Fellowship Training Program at Dana-Farber/Boston
Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. He was a Howard Hughes Medical
Institute Investigator for 16 years and is a member of the Institute of
Medicine. Williams co-founded the Transatlantic Gene Therapy Consortium and the
North American Pediatric Aplastic Anemia Consortium, both of which are
multi-institutional collaborative organizations that work to increase clinical/translational
research in rare pediatric diseases. His basic research focuses on
hematopoietic stem cell biology, and his licensed patents include IL-11
(NeumegaTM) and the use of fibronectin in gene transfer (RetronectinTM).
Williams earned his MD at Indiana State University. Williams completed his
residency in pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and
his fellowship in pediatric hematology/oncology at Boston
Children’s and Dana-Farber’s joint program.
Q. What are your goals for ASH during your presidency?
ASH is an
outstanding organization made up of volunteers from across the world and a
world-class professional staff. In the upcoming year, I will continue our
organization’s robust effort in advocating for increased funding for the
National Institutes of Health, as well as access and reimbursement policies that will allow us to promote the best
science and patient care in hematology. In addition, as a long-time fellowship
director, I feel strongly that ASH needs to focus additional efforts on
facilitating the careers of young trainees, including providing research
funding opportunities for the transition of fellows to junior faculty. I also
hope ASH will take an aggressive stance in advocating for a more thoughtful
approach to new regulations that have been promulgated on certification of
physicians and the duty hour restrictions placed on our training programs.
Q. It is unusual for a pediatric hematologist/oncologist
to lead ASH. What does this mean for ASH and for your presidency?
You are correct that
in some ways this is unusual, since the vast majority of ASH members are
hematologists trained in internal medicine. On the other hand, ASH has always
been an organization in which pediatricians (and pathologists, blood bankers
and others) have been welcomed. There are many, many outstanding pediatricians
serving on key committees of ASH. My election simply shows that ASH welcomes
hematologists from all parts of the professional spectrum.
Q. What are the biggest advances in hematology – both
cancers and blood disorders – that you see on the horizon?
As was clear from our recent annual meeting, science
continues to drive advances being made in what we offer patients suffering from
serious blood diseases, including leukemia. As we understand the ways in which cancer
cells function, new drugs are being introduced that take advantage of this
knowledge by targeting the unique pathways that make these cancer cells more
susceptible to being destroyed. As we learn more about the genetic make-up of
cancer cells, treatments are becoming more individualized – and, we hope, both
more effective and less toxic. Finally, we are learning how to direct patients own
immune systems to powerfully attack tumor cells, including leukemia cells. In
non-malignant hematological diseases, such as hemophilia and sickle cell
disease, therapies that are more effective are being tested in clinical trials,
and I anticipate these will come into more widespread clinical use in the next five
years. Overall, there are a number of amazing opportunities for the development
of new treatments that are being driven by hematology research.