Larry J. Shapiro, A.B. '68, M.D. '71
• Executive Vice Chancellor for Medical Affairs
• Dean, School of Medicine
• Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics

Advancing a Dramatic Initiative

Larry Shapiro is nurturing partnerships to transform medical research, cross-campus collaborations, and, ultimately, patient care.

by Betsy Rogers

To talk with Larry J. Shapiro, A.B. '68, M.D. '71, is to glimpse a vision of breathtaking advances in medical science, disease prevention and treatment—and to catch his enthusiasm for the Washington University School of Medicine.

"We're poised at a fantastic time," says Shapiro, executive vice chancellor and medical school dean since July 2003, noting that mapping and sequencing the human genome, an effort in which Washington University played a central role, has brought medical science and the world's top research institutions to a new frontier.

Research on this new frontier promises revolutionary changes in medicine and profound new hope for better health. Personalized medications, for instance, could be tailored to the individual's genetic makeup. "If we really understand exactly which genes are conspiring to produce disease and how they're doing it, and which other genes that you might have inherited are dictating how you respond to particular drugs," Shapiro explains, "we might be able to choose exactly the right pharmacological therapy and exactly the right dosage that would be unique to you and give you the best chance of recovering health."

To grasp these unique opportunities, Shapiro, the medical school, and the University have launched BioMed 21, a dramatic initiative aimed at fostering many new interdisciplinary collaborations among University faculty at the most fundamental level of inquiry. "We're proposing on a much larger scale to bring together the biomedical scientists on this campus with other biologists on the Hilltop Campus as well as chemists, physicists, engineers, psychologists, social scientists, and others, because many of us believe it is at the interface between disciplines that some of the most exciting fundamental advances will occur," says Shapiro, also the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics.

BioMed 21 will create three new interdisciplinary research centers, one focused on genomics, one on biological imaging, and the third on clinical science, helping speed the transfer of scientific advances from the laboratory to patient care.

Edward S. Macias, executive vice chancellor, dean of Arts & Sciences, and the Barbara and David Thomas Distinguished Professor in Arts & Sciences, is deeply committed to the initiative. "This next advancement of biological science will require close connection between basic scientists of the sort we have on the Hilltop Campus with medical scientists at the medical school," he points out.

Macias appreciates Shapiro's leadership and his embrace of the larger University community. As an alumnus of Arts & Sciences and the medical school and the father of two alums, Shapiro "brings with him a good understanding of how the Hilltop Campus operates," Macias notes. "He is very involved in the University—the medical school and beyond."

Indeed, Shapiro is nurturing partnerships across the Hilltop. He hopes collaborations with social and behavioral scientists, for instance, will help unlock persistent mysteries of behavior, both among physicians and patients. Why, for instance, do doctors fail to prescribe demonstrably effective beta-blockers following heart attacks? And why do so many patients resist life-saving screenings like mammograms and prostate cancer tests, or fail to make needed lifestyle changes?

"We've got to understand this better and find ways to motivate people to do what's in their best interest," Shapiro observes, "and that's the province of social and behavioral science."

He's also pursuing partnerships with the Olin School of Business. One of BioMed 21's primary goals—to take scientific advances into patient care—will depend in part on entrepreneurial ventures to scale up development of new technologies and pharmaceuticals and make them available to clinicians and patients.

One new program, part of a University-wide entrepreneurship initiative funded by the Kauffmann Foundation of Kansas City, will be a new curriculum option for biology and biomedical Ph.D. students, providing a year's very structured study in entrepreneurship—in the steps required and the pitfalls that occur in starting new firms.

Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton has high praise for Shapiro and his contributions as part of the University's leadership team. Shapiro, Wrighton observes, came to the University from "a distinguished career as an independent medical scientist, clinician, and academic leader" at the University of California, San Francisco. An internationally renowned research geneticist and pediatrician, Shapiro is a member of the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and he is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Wrighton also appreciates personal attributes that set Shapiro apart. "He brings enormous intellectual strength, passion for his work, and personal sensitivity to his roles as dean of the School of Medicine and executive vice chancellor for medical affairs," Wrighton says.

"Larry already has made key and enduring contributions to Washington University, since his appointment as dean in 2003," Wrighton continues. "He has recommitted the School of Medicine to advancing medical education, enhancing its engagement in research to advance human health, and strengthening its work in clinical medicine. With a great vision and the ability to implement his plans, Dr. Larry Shapiro is one of our greatest contributors to a brighter future for our University."

James P. Crane, associate vice chancellor for clinical affairs, shares Wrighton's enthusiasm. "Dean Shapiro has a unique ability to listen to diverse points of view and build consensus in a collegial and constructive fashion," Crane observes. "He has a sound understanding of the challenges facing academic medicine and creative ideas on how to deal effectively with these concerns. Larry is consistently thoughtful in his analysis of complex issues and focuses on crafting principled decisions in guiding the medical school's direction."

Like Wrighton, Crane admires Shapiro as a person. "He has strong interpersonal skills and integrity, a reassuring sense of calm, and heartfelt compassion for the needs of others," Crane says. "He celebrates the success of others without concern for personal recognition, has an extraordinary work ethic, and is deeply committed to Washington University and its mission of academic excellence."

Betsy Rogers is a free-lance writer based in Belleville, Illinois.