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Westervelt Named Director of Bone Marrow Transplantation and Leukemia

Gwen Ericson

Peter Westervelt, MD, PhD

Aug. 23, 2006 – Peter Westervelt, MD, PhD, has been named director of the bone marrow transplantation and leukemia section of the Division of Oncology at the Siteman Cancer Center at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Westervelt, associate professor of medicine, succeeds John F. DiPersio, MD, PhD, professor of medicine, in the position. DiPersio continues his positions as chief of the Division of Oncology and deputy director of the Siteman Cancer Center.

Westervelt completed his MD/PhD program at the School of Medicine in 1992 and then went on to do his residency and fellowship here as well. After two years as an instructor in medicine at Washington University, Westervelt returned to his native New England to take a position as director of the Bone Marrow Transplantation Program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester.

"Dr. DiPersio asked if I would consider coming back to Washington University to run the bone marrow program," Westervelt says. "He had built this program from the ground up over the last 10 years and made it into one of the top five programs in the country. For me it represented an unbelievable opportunity to join a great program - a program I'm very familiar with - and a group of wonderful people for whom I have the highest regard."

According to Westervelt, the large number of patients treated in the section allows the program to perform single-institution clinical trials and provides access to a wide range of tissue samples for banking and future study. Paired with outstanding basic science expertise in the division in stem cell biology and leukemia research, the size of the program greatly facilitates translational research, which brings ideas from the scientist to the bedside.

"It's personally gratifying and tremendously exciting for all of us to have succeeded in recruiting Peter back to Washington University," DiPersio says. "He's not only a physician trained here, but someone who has advanced to national stature in the fields of leukemia and transplantation. He will carry the section forward to new heights."

Westervelt says he will strive to continue to enhance the quality of care delivered by the section and work to recruit additional physicians to a program that now has four full-time clinical faculty members and three members who are primarily laboratory based.

Bone marrow transplantation was developed to treat leukemia, which remains one of the major conditions it is used for, according to Westervelt. But bone marrow and stem cell transplantation are also an established indication for the treatment of other hematologic malignancies such as lymphoma and multiple myeloma and is also utilized for some nonmalignant conditions such as aplastic anemia and inherited disorders such as sickle cell anemia.

Research in the section focuses on reducing the toxicity of the transplantation procedure by decreasing the incidence or severity of graft vs. host disease, understanding how transplanted cells help fight leukemia cells to cure cancer and developing new therapies for hematologic malignancies.

"I worked in the lab when I was a fellow, and subsequently at the University of Massachusetts, developing models of acute leukemia in mice," Westervelt says. "That has given me an understanding of leukemia at the molecular level, which is a valuable platform for treating patients with leukemia and developing new treatments. The experience of working in a really top-quality lab continues to pay dividends."

For about five years before his move to Massachusetts, Westervelt conducted research in the laboratory of Timothy Ley, M.D., the Alan A. and Edith L. Wolff Professor of Medicine and professor of genetics.

"Having Peter back at Washington University is a dream come true," Ley says. "He is the epitome of the physician-scientist, as comfortable with the nuances of basic science as he is with the design and execution of a complex clinical trial. His experience, leadership and national reputation continue the vision of excellence for the program established by John DiPersio, and will take us in new directions as well."

Siteman Cancer Center is the only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center within a 200-mile radius of St. Louis. Siteman Cancer Center is composed of the combined cancer research and treatment programs of Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine.