Benjamin D. Humphreys, MD, PhD, a highly regarded physician and scientist, has been named director of the Renal Division in the Department of Medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Humphreys will begin his new position in July.
He comes to Washington University from Harvard Medical School, where he is an associate professor of medicine and director of the Laboratory of Translational Research in Kidney Repair. In his clinical practice, he treats patients at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
“Dr. Humphreys is a distinguished physician-scientist and a gifted clinician and teacher,” said Victoria Fraser, MD, the Adophus Busch Professor of Medicine and head of the Department of Medicine. “We are very enthusiastic about him leading the Renal Division. He brings exceptional clinical expertise in nephrology, and his work in the laboratory is leading to advances that will improve therapies for acute and chronic kidney disease.”
Humphreys succeeds Marc Hammerman, MD, the Chromalloy Professor of Renal Diseases, who has led the Renal Division since 1991. Under his leadership, the division has undertaken major initiatives to enhance care to patients with acute and chronic kidney diseases. He has championed efforts to make dialysis more widely available to patients earlier in the course of kidney disease and has overseen seminal research aimed at understanding the root causes of kidney conditions.
“Marc has been incredibly effective as an investigator, clinician, educator and administrator,” Fraser noted. “In addition to his important work in the laboratory and in the clinic, he has overseen several generations of outstanding internists, fellows and faculty who have gone on to successful careers and become leaders at institutions throughout the U.S.”
His successor’s work focuses on clarifying the underpinnings of kidney injury at a cellular level and developing new treatments based on that research. In certain cases of chronic or repeated kidney injuries, the kidneys develop scar tissue that causes them to slowly and irreversibly fail.
A primary focus of Humphreys’ research is unraveling the pathways that regulate the scarring process so that drugs to slow and ultimately reverse chronic kidney disease can be developed. In combination with genetics and genomic techniques, he also uses mouse models to investigate kidney diseases that occur in people and can lead to kidney failure.
“I am passionate about the kidney and communicating the need for new therapies to help patients, and I believe that we are close to achieving clinical breakthroughs,” Humphreys said. “We have not had new treatments for kidney disease in over 30 years, but there is hope on the horizon. Success would have a tremendous impact on the 20 million Americans with kidney diseases, and reduce the enormous costs of kidney disease to Medicare – about $77 billion per year.”
Humphreys’ lab at Harvard is affiliated with the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, where he serves as co-director of the kidney program. In this role, he provides mentorship and advice to colleagues attempting to use stem cells to develop new treatments for kidney disease.
In addition to teaching at Harvard Medical School, Humphreys has lectured undergraduates at Harvard College and MBA students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“It is energizing and fun to talk to people at different stages of education and training,” Humphreys said. “I view teaching as an opportunity to influence how people think about kidney disease and to recruit a few smart young people into our field. One of the things that gives me great satisfaction is to have students and fellows come into the lab and to witness their enthusiasm for kidney research and the possibility that they can make a difference someday in how we care for patients suffering from kidney disease.”
In his clinical practice, Humphreys treats kidney disease that sometimes develops in cancer patients as a side effect of treatment. As one of the first physicians to subspecialize in this field, he coined the phrase “onco-nephrology.”
He receives referrals from oncologists at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and provides second opinions for doctors both regionally and nationally. Humphreys also participates in the Adult Survivorship Program at Dana-Farber, designed to help adult survivors of cancer and their caregivers cope with the unique struggles that cancer survivors face.
Humphreys is a member of the American Society of Clinical Investigation and the International Society of Nephrology. He has authored or co-authored over 40 original articles, including 15 as senior author in the past five years.
He also is a member of the editorial boards of Kidney International and the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, as well as a founding member of the American Society of Nephrology’s Onco-Nephrology Interest Group. His research is funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the American Heart Association.
Humphreys received his undergraduate degree in English and American literature from Harvard College. He received his medical degree and a doctorate in physiology and biophysics from Case Western Reserve University, and completed his internship and residency in internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, followed by a fellowship in nephrology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.