Simon Powell to Lead Department of Radiation Oncology

Michael C. Purdy

July 13, 2004 – Simon Powell, MB BS, PhD, a cancer physician-scientist from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University, has been appointed head of the Department of Radiation Oncology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

“Simon is a talented research scientist who has done much to uncover the molecular mechanisms that allow normal tissues and cancer cells to repair their DNA after exposure to ionizing radiation,” says Larry J. Shapiro, MD, dean of the School of Medicine and executive vice chancellor for medical affairs. “He possesses the leadership skills and vision to move our Department of Radiation Oncology forward in a continued effort to achieve excellence in all of its missions.”

Powell is a leader in research into BRCA1 and BRCA2, two genes that can sharply increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. Among other accomplishments, Powell developed new tests that let doctors interpret formerly ambiguous results from tests for the risk-enhancing forms of BRCA1 and BRCA2.

Powell, who is originally from England, was head of the breast cancer service and clinical director of the Gillette Women’s Cancer Center Program at Massachusetts General, which is affiliated with Harvard Medical School. He earned both his medical degree and doctorate in cell and molecular radiation biology at the University of London. Powell trained at the Royal Marsden Hospital and the Institute of Cancer Research in England before coming to the United States in 1991 as a clinical oncology fellow at Harvard.

Powell also will become a professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology. As department head, he succeeds Carlos A. Perez, MD, who led the department since it was founded in September 2001.

“Replacing a colleague like Carlos Perez was not easy, but I think in Simon we are incredibly fortunate to have someone with solid leadership capability and outstanding clinical and research skills,” says Timothy J. Eberlein, MD, the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin professor and director of the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center.

Powell currently is principal investigator or co-principal investigator for six federal research grants and has served on various committees for the National Institutes of Health, including site visit committees that have reviewed major cancer-related grants at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of North Carolina and MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. He was associate editor of the International Journal of Cancer for eight years and currently serves on the editorial boards of the journals Radiation Research and Cancer Biology and Therapy.

Powell says his goals include creation of a center for molecular targeted radiotherapy that will work to “combine the latest biology with the best technology.”

“We plan to encourage this attitude in the teaching of residents, the recruitment of new faculty and the development of clinical trials within the Siteman Cancer Center,” he says. “The opportunity clearly exists to make Washington University's Department of Radiation Oncology the premier radiation oncology department in the country.”

The department employs more than 200 faculty and staff at Washington University and is composed of four divisions. The clinical division provides treatment for patients and conducts clinical trials; the cancer biology division studies the effects and interactions of radiation, heat and cytotoxic agents on cells; the physics division explores the physics of radiation oncology, plans treatment, and researches and develops new treatment equipment; and the administration and information systems division maintains computer services and information systems.

Department member Joseph L. Roti Roti, PhD, professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics and of cell biology and physiology, notes that radiation oncology includes a unique mixture of applied medical research, basic biological research and physics research. These three areas focus on different aspects of one question: how best to use radiation to destroy tumor cells while minimizing damage to regular tissues.

“Radiation damages DNA, and how well cells can repair that damage is one of the main determinants of how well they survive after radiation treatments,” says Roti Roti. “Simon has a solid record of achievements in DNA repair research, and that experience is going to be essential to improving our ability to make it tougher for tumor cells to recover while reducing damage to normal tissues.”

Powell assumes his duties as department head and professor at Washington University on Oct. 1.

“Simon is committed to the best possible patient care, to providing superb training and education, to continuing the development of the scientific basis of radiation oncology and to translating new discoveries into meaningful clinical advances,” says Shapiro.


The full-time and volunteer faculty of Washington University School of Medicine are the physicians and surgeons of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children's hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient-care institutions in the nation, currently ranked second in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children's hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.

Last updated 7/13/04