After decades of contributions to pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition, Mass General's W. Allan Walker, MD, is honored with an endowed chair.

MGHfCIt’s not unusual for Massachusetts General Hospital employees to enjoy long and distinguished careers. But for W. Allan Walker, MD, the nearly 50 years he has spent at the MGH also have resulted in seminal contributions to the field of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition, including authorship of the definitive textbook, “Walker’s Gastrointestinal Disease,” now in its fifth printing.

“Everyone who is in the field of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition has been touched—in a very positive way—by Dr. Walker’s career,” said Ronald Kleinman, MD, physician-in-chief at MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC) and chief of Partners Pediatrics, at a reception Oct. 8, 2015 to celebrate the creation of the W. A. Walker, MD Endowed Chair in Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition. Approximately 100 colleagues, friends and family members attended the event held at the Paul S. Russell MD Museum of Medical History and Innovation at Mass General, which was opened by remarks from MGH President Peter Slavin, MD.

Celebrating the creation of the W. A. Walker, MD Endowed Chair in Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition are, from left, Drs. Slavin, Fasano, Walker and Kleinman.
Celebrating the creation of the W. A. Walker, MD Endowed Chair in Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition are, from left, Drs. Slavin, Fasano, Walker and Kleinman.

Dr. Slavin recognized Dr. Walker for his contributions to the field, including his long-term research into the prevention of necrotizing enterocolitis, an often-fatal disease that affects premature infants. As Conrad Taff Professor of Nutrition at Harvard Medical School (HMS), Dr. Walker’s current research includes looking into the beneficial role that probiotics can play in clinical pediatric settings. Dr. Slavin also acknowledged another “superb physician,” Alessio Fasano, MD, the first recipient of the Walker Chair.

First Pediatric Gastroenterology Unit

Dr. Fasano is chief of the Department of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition and director of the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at MGHfC, where he treats both children and adults. “Alessio’s efforts have contributed to enormous progress in raising awareness and improving understanding of celiac disease, a lifelong condition, and other gluten-related disorders,” said Dr. Slavin.

Dr. Walker first arrived at Mass General as a research fellow to study gastroenterology under Kurt Isselbacher, MD, in 1969.

Dr. Walker first arrived at Mass General as a research fellow to study gastroenterology under Kurt Isselbacher, MD, in 1969. He established the first pediatric gastroenterology unit at Mass General in 1972, serving as its chief until 1982, when he launched a combined pediatric gastroenterology program with Boston Children’s Hospital and Mass General.

As one of the first investigators to appreciate the importance of the interaction of the intestinal mucosal surface and the environment, Dr. Walker founded the Mucosal Immunology Laboratory in 1972, which became the Mucosal Immunology and Biology Research Center headed by Dr. Fasano in 2013. Dr. Walker still heads the Division of Nutrition at HMS, which he established in 1996.

Proceeds from the chair will enable stable funding for Dr. Fasano to continue his research, which includes a long-term prospective study of infants to unravel the complex factors that contribute to the development of celiac disease.  Dr. Slavin noted that it will also allow Dr. Fasano and future recipients to “spend more time teaching and mentoring.” In closing, Dr. Kleinman recognized the importance of philanthropic support to MGHfC to create opportunities for Dr. Fasano and his team to continue to make advances in celiac disease and autoimmune disorders.

To learn more about how you can support research and treatment related to pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition, and celiac disease, please contact us.