Golden Age in Pathology
Dr. Peter A. Ward is the first Godfrey D. Stobbe Professor of Pathology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. After receiving his MD at the University of Michigan, he interned at the Bellevue Hospital in New York City before completing his Pathology Residency at the University of Michigan. His research experiences include a fellowship in the department of Bacteriology and Pathology at the University of Michigan prior to a postdoctoral fellowship at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA. His military service includes a position as Captain, Medical Corps, US Army and Chief of the Immunobiology Branch in the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology at Walter Reed, Washington DC. He has served as Professor and Chair of the Departments of Pathology at the University of Connecticut (1973-80) and the University of Michigan (1980-2005). From 1982-1985, he also served as the Interim Dean of the University of Michigan Medical School. He is a recipient of ASIP’s Young Investigator Award, Rous-Whipple Award, Gold-Headed Cane Award and Chugai Award for Meritorious Mentoring and Scholarship. Dr. Ward has held NIH funding since 1965.
Brief summary of Dr. Ward’s career Interests
I started out with an interest in inflammation and how leukocytes can exit from the blood compartment and get to the appropriate location to provide innate immune defenses, enhance wound healing, and perform functions that are protective. As a medical student and resident, the field of inflammation research was just beginning to focus on neutrophils and how they migrate in vivo. In addition, new technologies were being developed (for example, chemotactic chambers) to study their migration to an inflammatory site. In the many years I have been in research, there has been continuous development of new technologies, discovery of key proteins and lipids involved in leukocyte transmigration and defense of function, discovery of adhesion molecules both on leukocytes and endothelial cells that facilitate their egress phenomenon, and a host of other things that provided extensive and critical new insights into how the inflammatory response functions. In spite of all of these studies and advances, it has to be said that the development of new, effective and exciting therapeutic interventions has been extremely limited and has not resulted in much translational responsiveness in terms of exciting new, safe and highly effective drugs that have anti-inflammatory functions. In spite of 20 or more years of work on the adhesion molecules of leukocytes and endothelial cells, there has yet to be an effective therapeutic strategy that can take advantage of this knowledge. A basic question is why these efforts have not resulted in effective and broadly applicable new therapeutic interventions. I am not sure that anyone can say precisely why this is the case, but it represents a paradox that hopefully will not be repeated.
Why did you return to the University of Michigan?
Incremental lab space being available, Medical School on the main University campus, Department of Pathology clinical revenue, and other financial resources that allowed the building of new programs (research, teaching, diagnostic) to supplement those already in place.
Why do you think that you have been so successful?
Hard work, highly dedicated and hard working postdoctoral fellows, graduate and undergraduate students in a University setting that encourages outstanding research.
What qualifications and experience make your CV stand out?
Publication record over 600 publications and coherence of the research theme (inflammation).
What factors should an individual consider when choosing a postdoctoral or faculty position?
For a postdoctoral position, there should be an experienced mentor with an appropriately sized laboratory, meaning not too few or not too many graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. I have seen some laboratories in which a mentor had between 30 and 40 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. Obviously, it is impossible to provide the necessary one-on-one contact under such conditions. The mentor should be NIH-funded or have other recurring funding in order to have financial means to support an active laboratory. Regarding faculty positions: Look for other faculty members with expertise that matches your own area of interest and develop collaborative ties with them. Negotiate a clearly-defined and adequate start-up package with access to core facilities. (Otherwise you will have to outsource.) You should also investigate the competitiveness of the institution’s graduate programs, its bioinformatics facilities, and biostatistical support.
What is the best career advice you were ever given?
After he accepted the Pathology Chair at the University of Connecticut, Irwin Lepow in 1969 convinced me that joining him and colleagues at the UConn Health Center would be good for my career. He assembled a group of young faculty whose common interests were related to immunology and inflammation.
What is the best career advice you have ever given?
I have often been asked to provide names of mentors whom I think would do an outstanding job for the graduate student or postdoctoral fellow. When students have come up with the name of a mentor at an institution that in my opinion is not well suited or would not provide the ideal environment for the student, I have had little hesitancy to suggest that there are better places for career development.
What are your picks for hot topics in pathology? 1) Lipids. Charles Serhan’s work at Harvard on the inflammatory and anti-inflammatory properties of lipids has opened up an enormous amount of opportunity for new strategies and new compounds to be developed; 2) Use of new imaging and other noninvasive modalities to predict risk and to study the progression of disease (e.g. to visualize demyelination in Multiple Sclerosis and assess drug efficacy); 3) Development of small molecular agents that can be given to block the endogenous ligands and/or receptors as powerful inhibitors of cytokines and adhesion molecules-instead of injectable monoclonal antibodies.
Any final comments about the future of pathology as a discipline?
Pathology is in a “golden age” that is due to genomic and proteomic technologies. These permit unprecedented advances that allow pathologists to better understand clinical behaviors of tumors and to predict responses to infectious agents. In my opinion, these new tools in pathology are as important as when Rudolf Virchow (the “father” of surgical pathology) in the late 1800s proved that histopathological features in biopsy specimens could identify the nature of benign and malignant tumors and detect systemic diseases such as tuberculosis.