Getting to Know Wash U Medical School’s New Dean

How does Wash U’s new medical school dean plan to optimize the power of science?

authors Julie Parker

Soon after David H. Perlmutter, MD, was named executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and dean of the Washington University School of Medicine (WUSTL), St. Louis Medical News had an exclusive interview with him about the vision he brings to the job, which officially begins Dec. 1.


Washington University Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton pointed out the extraordinary vision and experience you’ll bring to bridge strengths across the School of Medicine. How do you plan to accomplish that goal?

We have some very important opportunities to develop new therapies to delay age-dependent degenerative diseases. We have the framework for improving how we approach elderly patients at the end of life. We have the beginnings of revolution in genomics and microbiomics, in which we can potentially understand why some people are more severely affected by disease than others. Optimizing the power of science at Wash U can potentially result in real reductions in the cost of healthcare, especially clinical care. Very few places in the world have the potential that Wash U holds.

Because Wash U has a wonderful pipeline for physician-scientists through our medical science training program, which I believe is the best, we’re uniquely positioned to lead the nation and world in that regard. All of us in academic medicine realize that medical science is an area we’re vulnerable to … and an area in which we want to be the global leader.


During your time at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, you expanded pediatric research grants six-fold, and significantly increased faculty in the Department of Pediatrics. Do you have similar plans for Wash U?

When I joined the Pittsburgh system, there was a real need for strengthening the Department of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. In fact, that’s why I took the job. Going back to Wash U is a much bigger job. It’s a very large, thriving academic medical school with many different programs. The goal is for us to continue to flourish.


Concerning research, you’ve contributed groundbreaking research concerning alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (ATD) and liver damage. In fact, an ongoing Phase 2 clinical trial is evaluating the treatment, with a goal to determine whether this class of drugs can eliminate the future need for liver transplantation. What other areas of research pique your interest for Wash U?

There are so many areas, including age-dependent degenerative diseases, genomics, microbiomics, informatics, and personalized medicine. They all hold really great opportunities.


Are you eyeing particular changes to the School of Medicine that you could share with our audience?

There are no changes that I’m thinking of at this point. My plan is to really learn about everything that’s going on in the medical center and work closely with the executive faculty and leaders of the BJC system on a joint vision for the future. The fundamental thrust will concern the healthcare we bring to the community through our education and research.


Is there anything else you’d like to share with the St. Louis medical community?

Oh, yes. It’s a very special time for us to return to St. Louis. We loved our time in St. Louis and at Washington University. Our daughter, Lisa, was born two weeks after we moved to St. Louis in 1986. Our son, Andrew, was two years old then. Those were precious times. Lisa recently got married, so that lifetime milestone represents another wonderful symmetry about coming back to St. Louis.



Washington University School of Medicine:

More in Feature Profiles

  Load more content