Robert O. Heuckeroth, MD, PhD, has been named the Alumni Endowed Professor of Pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. He is a pediatric gastroenterologist and sees patients at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
The professorship was established by gifts from medical alumni, former medical residents and other supporters of the School of Medicine.
Heuckeroth studies the nervous system in the intestine and colon that controls most aspects of digestion. Defects in this nervous system can cause constipation, vomiting and even life-threatening medical problems. For example, about one in every 5,000 children is born with Hirschsprung’s disease, a serious birth defect that often leads to intestinal blockages. In these children, the nervous system in the digestive tract is completely missing from the end of the bowel. Although Hirschsprung’s disease is treated surgically, many children continue to have problems after surgery, suggesting the need for new strategies to treat or prevent the disease.
“The medical school is very grateful for the generosity of its alumni and friends in helping us honor physician-scientists like Bob Heuckeroth,” says Larry J. Shapiro, MD, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. “Bob is internationally recognized for his work on gastrointestinal disorders, and he exemplifies the best of bench-to-bedside research.”
More than a decade of basic research by Heuckeroth’s laboratory has led to a sophisticated but incomplete understanding of the molecular mechanisms that control normal development of the nervous system of the gastrointestinal tract. Based on these studies, researchers believe there are important gene-environment interactions that influence the development of Hirschsprung’s disease.
Heuckeroth currently is studying new ways to prevent Hirschsprung’s and other birth defects that disrupt the nervous system of the gastrointestinal tract.
“I am delighted to be named the Alumni Endowed Professor of Pediatrics,” says Heuckeroth, also professor of developmental, regenerative and stem cell biology. “As a graduate of Washington University, I am particularly grateful for this honor. This support will advance our effort to find innovative ways to prevent birth defects, the most common cause of neonatal death.”
Heuckeroth joined the School of Medicine faculty in 1995, after completing both his MD and PhD at Washington University. He trained in pediatrics and gastroenterology at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
Heuckeroth has published more than 50 peer-reviewed journal articles. He also holds five patents.
His numerous honors include being named a Markey Trust Scholar and a recipient of the Young Investigator Award from the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition. Heuckeroth also received awards from the American Gastroenterological Association, the Glaxo Wellcome Institute of Digestive Health and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund.
Additionally, Heuckeroth has been elected into several prestigious organizations, including the American Society for Clinical Investigation.
Washington University School of Medicine’s 2,100 employed 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 sixth 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.