Hallahan to Head Radiation Oncology Department

Gwen Ericson

May 5, 2009 – Dennis Hallahan, MD, has been chosen to head the Department of Radiation Oncology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Hallahan will be named the first Elizabeth H. and James S. McDonnell III Distinguished Professor in Medicine. He will also serve on the senior leadership committee of the Siteman Cancer Center.

The appointment was announced by Larry Shapiro, MD, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, and became effective May 1.

"Dennis Hallahan is highly regarded for his expertise and innovative research on improving the safety and effectiveness of radiation for cancer treatment, and we are very fortunate to be able to welcome this top-notch scientist, physician and administrator to the University," Shapiro says. "I am confident that under his leadership, the Department of Radiation Oncology will continue as a source of the best possible patient care, superb training and education, groundbreaking scientific investigation and translation of new discoveries into meaningful clinical advances."

Hallahan comes to Washington University from Vanderbilt University, where he was the Ingram Professor of Cancer Research and chairman of the Department of Radiation Oncology.

"I am delighted that Dean Shapiro and the executive faculty have invited me to lead this outstanding department," Hallahan says. "The School of Medicine is immersed in a spirit of collegiality and collaboration, which provides an environment for researchers from diverse disciplines to work together. When geneticists collaborate with computer scientists or when oncologists work with chemists, important discoveries are made."

Hallahan will occupy a newly endowed chair named for James S. McDonnell III and his wife, Elizabeth. McDonnell is a son of aviation pioneer James Smith McDonnell, founder of the McDonnell Aircraft Corp., who served Washington University as a trustee and board chair in the 1960s and as trusted adviser until his death in 1980.

James S. McDonnell III was a director of McDonnell Douglas Corp. until its merger with the Boeing Co. in 1997. McDonnell was a vice president of the corporation from 1973 until his retirement in January 1991. The McDonnells are leaders in civic and business life, community service and philanthropy in their hometown of St. Louis and elsewhere. James McDonnell has served on the boards of numerous St. Louis organizations, including the Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis Children's Hospital and the Missouri Botanical Garden.

As head of the Department of Radiation Oncology, Hallahan succeeds interim head Jeffrey Michalski, MD, who has held the position since April 2008.

"Jeff has done a tremendous job during this past year," Shapiro says. "The department thrived under his watch, and I am grateful for his hard work and skill, which has ensured a seamless transition and continued success in all aspects of the department's operation."

The radiation oncology department, one of the largest in the country, is recognized as a national leader in the development and clinical implementation of major technical breakthroughs in radiation treatments for cancer patients. The department provides a rich training environment for radiation oncology health care providers. Recently, the department expanded its cancer biology, medical physics and clinical divisions and created a new division in bioinformatics and outcomes research.

"Together with Barnes-Jewish Hospital and BJC HealthCare, we will continue to advance cancer therapy technology with proton beam therapy, image-guided therapy and a world-renowned brachytherapy center," Hallahan says.

Hallahan earned his medical degree from Rush University in Chicago in 1984. He completed a residency and internship in internal medicine at the University of Chicago. He then went on to complete a residency in radiation oncology and a postdoctoral research project in radiation and cellular oncology at the same university.

In 1990, Hallahan joined the faculty of the cancer center at the University of Chicago and became associate professor of radiation and cellular oncology at the university four years later. In 1998, he moved to Vanderbilt University as head of the radiation oncology department. At Vanderbilt, he was also professor of cell and developmental biology, of cancer biology and of biomedical engineering. He was a radiation oncologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the Nashville Veterans Administration Hospital, Nashville General Hospital and other area medical facilities.

Hallahan conducts research to identify new molecular targets for cancer therapy and to develop drugs that improve cancer response to radiation therapy while minimizing the effect on normal tissues. He has published scientific articles about radiotherapy treatment for many types of cancer, including brain, head and neck, lung, breast and prostate cancer, lymphoma and childhood neoplasms. He has several research grants from the National Cancer Institute and from industry collaborators.

Hallahan is a fellow of the American Society of Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology. Last year he received the Grant Liddle Award, a mentoring award that recognizes faculty members who demonstrate exemplary leadership in the promotion of scientific research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

He is on the editorial and review boards of numerous scientific journals. He has published more than 180 articles on his research and contributed many book chapters on radiation for cancer therapy. Hallahan is a founding scientist for GenVec Inc., a biopharmaceutical company, and holds more than 30 worldwide patents for cancer drug development. Several patents are licensed to industry partners.

Hallahan serves on many national boards, including the National Institutes of Health Study Section for Radiation Biology and Therapeutics. He is vice chairman of the research evaluation committee for the American Society of Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology (ASTRO) and is on the steering committee on promoting research for ASTRO.