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. 

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