Hamvas named James P. Keating, M.D., Professor of Pediatrics

Aaron Hamvas, M.D., a renowned pediatrician in newborn medicine and a leading authority on a lethal infant lung disease, has been appointed the first James P. Keating, M.D., Professor of Pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Aaron Hamvas
Aaron Hamvas

Hamvas is medical director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and of Nursery Services at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. He treats newborns with a variety of problems, such as life-threatening infections, debilitating physical defects and immature organs.

The professorship is named in honor of James P. Keating, M.D., the W. McKim Marriott Professor of Pediatrics at the School of Medicine and a pioneer in the field of pediatric gastroenterology, the study and treatment of disorders of the gastrointestinal tract. For more than 35 years, Keating has taught hundreds of residents at the School of Medicine as director and now co-director of the pediatric residency program. He began practicing pediatrics in 1968 at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

“James Keating has brought great energy, humor, passion and creativity to his pediatric residents,” said Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton. “It is only fitting that Aaron Hamvas, who possesses these same traits, serve as the inaugural holder of this professorship.”

Wrighton and Larry J. Shapiro, M.D., executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, jointly announced the appointment. “This professorship also allows us to recognize Dr. Hamvas’ outstanding work, his research into the genetics of newborn respiratory distress and his clinical work in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit,” Shapiro said.

A Yankton, S.D.-native, Hamvas earned an undergraduate degree cum laude from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., and a medical degree from Washington University School of Medicine in 1981. After completing a residency at St. Louis Children’s Hospital in 1984, Hamvas was a primary-care pediatrician at People’s Clinic Inc. in St. Louis, as well as an instructor in clinical pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine.

Hamvas then completed a fellowship in newborn medicine at St. Louis Children’s Hospital in 1990 and was named an instructor. He was promoted to professor in 2002.

“I’m extremely honored and humbled to be appointed as the first Keating Professor of Pediatrics,” says Hamvas. “Dr. Keating’s commitment to medical education and the care of children has set a standard that we all hope to achieve in our careers. As a trainee of Dr. Keating, this honor is even more meaningful.”

Keating refers to Hamvas as an exemplary physician and leader.

“I have had the privilege of knowing Aaron Hamvas as a student, resident and colleague for more than 25 years,” Keating said. “At all times he is a caring, just and inspiring teacher and an irreplaceable partner in the work of our department, hospital and school. He is a man of integrity, humility and compassion. My family and I are thrilled and proud that he has accepted the role of the first holder of this new professorship.”

“Jim Keating is perhaps the most revered pediatric clinician/teacher in the past 50 years at St. Louis Children’s Hospital,” said Alan L. Schwartz, Ph.D., M.D., the Harriet B. Spoehrer Professor and head of the Department of Pediatrics. “It is a tribute to Aaron Hamvas’ excellence as a clinician and teacher that he shall hold the Keating Professorship. Aaron is a superior neonatologist and most effective leader of our newborn intensive care program.”

Hamvas, whose research focuses on genetic lung diseases in newborns, is particularly interested in understanding how these diseases affect the production and function of pulmonary surfactant, the material that helps keep lungs inflated. Babies with these disorders cannot effectively get enough oxygen; many of them may require a lung transplant.

“Dr. Hamvas has built upon Dr. Keating’s model of careful clinical observation, a mechanism-oriented diagnostic approach and unambiguous willingness to do what it takes to help children and their families to make fundamental observations about the metabolism of pulmonary surfactant that have suggested novel strategies to improve outcomes of infants with respiratory distress,” said F. Sessions Cole, M.D., the Park J. White, M.D., Professor of Pediatrics, assistant vice chancellor for children’s health at the School of Medicine and chief medical officer at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “Dr. Hamvas’ note as an attending physician while he was caring for the first infant ever recognized with inherited disruption of surfactant metabolism presciently predicted that the baby had a genetic basis for respiratory distress.”

Hamvas is a member of the American Pediatric Society, the American Thoracic Society, the Society for Pediatric Research, the Midwest Society for Pediatric Research and the European Society for Pediatric Research. He received an award for outstanding service from the National Health Service Corps in 1987 and was named among America’s Top Doctors from 2004-2006.

He serves on the board of directors of the March of Dimes Greater Missouri Chapter, St. Louis Division and chairs committees and is on the executive council of the Midwest Society for Pediatric Research.

Keating, a native of Pennsylvania, earned an undergraduate degree from Harvard University and a medical degree from Harvard Medical School. He was an intern at King County Hospital in Seattle and a resident in pediatrics at Boston City Hospital and the Massachusetts General Hospital. He served in the U.S. Navy as a physician in Quang Tri Provincial Hospital, Republic of Vietnam. He later earned a master’s degree in epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Keating was named professor of pediatrics at the School of Medicine in 1978. He established the Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition within the Department of Pediatrics, serving as its director until 1992. He also served as director of the pediatric intensive care unit from 1980-1992, and developed the Division of Medical Diagnostics in 1992.

His research interests focus on the epidemiology of common pediatric gastrointestinal symptom complexes, which include studies of the incidence and root causes of constipation in large pediatric populations, the natural history of functional symptom complexes in children, the incidence of water intoxication in infants, and the implementation of a preventive intervention to eliminate that condition.

Keating is a former president of the St. Louis Pediatric Society and the St. Louis Children’s Hospital Medical Staff. In 1998, the James P. Keating, M.D., Outstanding Resident Award was created in his honor by his former students to recognize residents who embody the finest attributes in patient care, teaching and community spirit.

Washington University School of Medicine’s full-time and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff 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 fourth 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.