January 9, 1998

Whitlock to lead division of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology

Whitlock to lead division of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology

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Dr. James Whitlock (bottom right), newly named director of the division of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology, with (bottom row, from left) Cheryl Edens, Dr. John Lukens, Ann Simons, and Caroline Scholer. (Top row, from left) Dr. Michael Blake, Dr. Dana Haselton, nurse Allison Duffey, and nurse Connie Ford. (Photo by Donna Jones Bailey).

It's not quite the same as a son taking the reins of the family business from his father, but it's close.

After a nationwide search, Dr. James A. Whitlock has been named to succeed his longtime mentor, Dr. John N. Lukens, as Craig-Weaver Chair and director of the division of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital.

"I could not be happier with the recruitment of Jim Whitlock to succeed me as director of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology," said Lukens, who established the division when he joined the Vanderbilt faculty in 1975.

"I have followed every phase of Jim's professional development with interest and what might be viewed as paternalistic pride. He has done much to strengthen and extend Vanderbilt's programs in clinical investigation, especially as they relate to new drug evaluation and mechanisms of drug resistance.

"Jim is viewed nationally as a bright young star on the pediatric oncology landscape. He is well prepared to lead this division to greater heights."

Lukens continues in his role as chair of the admissions committee of Vanderbilt University Medical School. His clinical practice also continues.

"John Lukens is like a father to me, in a way," said Whitlock, who came to Vanderbilt for medical school in 1980 and has been a part of Vanderbilt University Medical Center ever since.

"I've grown up academically under him. It has been a privilege to work for him. That is the most daunting aspect about this ‹ that I am following in his footsteps. Dr. Lukens is a tremendous resource for people in training, and I hope that will continue for a long time."

Whitlock, a native of Kingsport, Tenn., earned his medical degree in 1984. He then stayed at Vanderbilt for residency in pediatrics, followed by a research fellowship in Genetics and fellowship training in Pediatric Hematology-Oncology.

In 1991, Whitlock joined the faculty as assistant professor of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology, and was promoted to associate professor earlier this year.

Fostering future growth of the Hematology-Oncology program, while maintaining the special culture that has thrived under Lukens' leadership, will be a challenge, Whitlock said.

"We are fortunate to be able to provide this special environment for the children ‹ not only leading edge medical care but complete care, including emotional and psychological support for the families," Whitlock said.

"We plan to continue to provide the excellent care that we've been able to provide the children of this region. That, in itself, will be a challenge in this environment."

More specific plans include recruitment of new faculty and staff with expertise in bone marrow transplantation, including cord blood stem cell transplantation.

An upcoming renovation of the myleosuppression unit at VCH will expand the unit from four to five beds and will offer an even greater degree of isolation, thus allowing accommodation of more high-risk patients, Whitlock said.

Another recruitment goal will be to bring on board faculty and staff with a special interest in experimental therapeutics to work closely with the Vanderbilt Cancer Center's efforts in the investigation of the latest therapies, he said.

Under Dr. Whitlock's direction, Vanderbilt offers a Phase 1 Clinical Trials Program as part of the Children's Cancer Group. This stage of new therapy development, the first step after laboratory testing in tissue culture and animals, is designed to evaluate proper dosages of new drugs in humans.

"The goal of our division is to take exciting new discoveries as quickly as possible from the bench to the bedside," Whitlock said. "We offer a number of Phase 1 protocols, but we hope to become an even greater regional referral center for those studies."