David G. Nathan, MD, wins lifetime achievement award at Boston Children's Hospital Innovation Summit

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Former president of Dana-Farber and physician-in-chief of Boston Children’s is a pioneer in pediatric hematology/oncology

David G. Nathan, MD, president emeritus of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and physician-in-chief emeritus of Boston Children’s Hospital, was honored as the inaugural recipient of the Boston Children’s Hospital Lifetime Impact Award at the hospital’s second Annual Global Pediatric Innovation Summit, Taking on Tomorrow (#PedInno14). In addition to his leadership at both Harvard teaching hospitals, Nathan was a pioneer in pediatric hematology/oncology and was – and continues to be – a mentor to generations of leading clinicians and physician-scientist researchers.

The award recognizes a clinician and/or researcher who has devoted his/her entire career to accelerating innovation in pediatric medicine. It also provides national and international recognition to an individual who has made extraordinary and sustained leadership contributions throughout his/her career to improve health care in the field of pediatrics. The presentation of the Lifetime Impact Award and companion Rising Star Award in a ceremony at the Seaport World Trade Center on October 31 marked the culmination of a two-day summit that brought together innovators and thought leaders from across the globe to examine clinical, informatics and business opportunities in pediatric innovation.

“With the selection of David Nathan as the inaugural recipient of Boston Children’s Lifetime Impact Award, we have set the bar high for this new honor,” said Boston Children’s President Sandra L. Fenwick. 

David is the consummate patient-centered researcher who is not only a giant in the development of the field of pediatric hematology/oncology but also a superb leader and teacher. His legacy lives in the greater excellence he has brought to Boston Children's and Dana-Farber, his scientific discoveries, and the many leaders in clinical medicine and research who call him a mentor.”

In nominating Nathan for the award, David Williams, MD – chief of hematology/oncology at Boston Children’s and associate chairman of pediatric oncology at Dana-Farber – called his mentor a “proverbial ‘triple threat’” who “combined outstanding clinical care, research and teaching leadership, … while he also steered two major academic institutions to greater heights.”

After graduating from Harvard Medical School in 1955, Nathan trained in internal medicine at Boston’s Peter Bent Brigham Hospital and completed a fellowship in hematology/oncology at the National Cancer Institute. At NCI, he was exposed to children with leukemia at a time when multi-agent chemotherapy was improving the survival of young patients. This, combined with his interest in the production of red blood cells, led him to pediatrics.

Under Nathan’s leadership the Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at Boston Children’s and Dana-Farber developed as the country’s premier program. His own research was instrumental in the creation of the first successful treatment for iron overload in thalassemia patients, prenatal diagnosis of thalassemia and sickle cell disease, and the drug hydroxyurea, now a mainstay for managing the disease’s painful effects for many patients.

“It is difficult to imagine another individual whose impact on the field of pediatrics has been so broad and deep,” Stuart H. Orkin, MD, chairman of pediatric oncology at Dana-Farber and associate chief of hematology/oncology at Boston Children’s, wrote in seconding Nathan’s nomination. “His influence has been felt by those in research laboratories, by those at the bedside, and, most importantly, by the patients to whom he has dedicated a life’s work.”

Nathan is also credited with enhancing the stature of both Boston Children’s and Dana-Farber as research and teaching institutions. Even now, Nathan, at 85, is leading a clinical trial aimed at developing treatment for a devastating complication of sickle cell disease known as acute chest syndrome. In addition to having guided both Williams and Orkin, the list of clinicians and researchers mentored by

Nathan includes Stephen Sallan, MD, chief of staff emeritus of Dana-Farber; Leonard Zon, MD, director of stem cell research at Boston Children’s; and Edward J. Benz, Jr., MD, president and chief executive officer of Dana-Farber.

“David Nathan is truly a once-in-a-generation leader in academic medicine and in academic pediatrics,” Benz wrote in supporting Nathan’s nomination. “David has used his devotion to training and career development to populate the field with leaders who amplify his impact nationally and internationally. He has built outstanding faculties in his division, department, hospital and Dana-Farber. He has instilled into those institutions the commitment to the highest quality of scientific rigor, compassionate and competent clinical care, and development of the next generation of leaders.”

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