Santoro to step down as Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology chair
by John Howser
After serving as the department’s leader for more than 15 years, Samuel A. Santoro, MD, PhD, the Dorothy B. and Theodore R. Austin Professor and Chair of the Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology, will step down from his role as the department’s chair after the completion of a national search to identify his successor. Upon conclusion of his term as chair, Santoro will remain on faculty.
Santoro joined Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) in 2003 as chair of the Department of Pathology. In 2011, he was asked by Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, President and Chief Executive Officer of VUMC, and Dean of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, to lead the creation of the new Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology (PMI).
PMI was formed by joining the Department of Pathology and Department of Microbiology and Immunology to enable closer collaboration among highly complementary disciplines. The formation has allowed the institution to leverage unique strengths of each department and has resulted in new opportunities for basic discovery science and translational science, and to recruit additional faculty in these key disciplines.
Under Santoro’s direction the department has significantly expanded its faculty as it has grown both the size and scope of its clinical and research programs. PMI is now considered one of the leading and most innovative departments of its kind. When Santoro arrived at Vanderbilt, only one member of the department held an endowed chair while today nine do.
High visibility VUMC programs such as the Personalized Medicine in Cancer Initiative and Pharmacogenomic Resource for Enhanced Decisions in Care and Treatment (PREDICT) were instituted in the department’s clinical laboratories.
The department is now recognized as one of the foremost centers of research excellence in microbial pathogenesis and immunobiology. The size and attractiveness of its graduate programs have rapidly expanded due to the excellence of the faculty and the creative nature of the curricula.
“Dr. Santoro’s facilitative approach to leadership has fostered an environment where innovation and teamwork flourish. His efforts and those of the PMI faculty have been instrumental to the growth and success of our clinical laboratory systems and world-class programs in precision medicine,” said Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, President and Chief Executive Officer for VUMC, and Dean of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
“Sam has also helped burnish the department’s reputation as one of the most desirable environments in the nation to work and train. I want to express my appreciation for his many contributions and incredible support.”
The department expanded the pathology residency program into one of the most desired in the country and created new clinical fellowship programs in almost all areas of diagnostic pathology. More than 40 percent of all U.S. medical school graduates entering pathology now apply to VUMC’s program.
New clinical initiatives during Santoro’s era as chair include the transition to subspecialty surgical pathology services, the creation of a pediatric pathology service, creation of a cytogenetics laboratory, the introduction of automation to the core clinical laboratory, the expansion of the Blood Bank to a full transfusion medicine service, and the establishment of a new standard of excellence in interpretive and integrative pathology reporting with the creation of diagnostic management teams.
“There is a clear association between offering our own clinical laboratory services and the performance of our health system. Every day, our laboratory teams play a vital role in how we deliver the very best care for our patients,” said C. Wright Pinson, MBA, MD, Deputy Chief Executive Officer and Chief Health System Officer for VUMC. “Under Dr. Santoro’s direction the quality, scope and depth of our pathology services continue to expand. I want to thank Sam for his service to the Medical Center and for his partnership as we have worked closely together over the past 15 years.”
Santoro, who is also a professor of Biochemistry, earned his MD and a doctorate in biochemistry from Vanderbilt in 1979. He completed his residency training in laboratory medicine (clinical pathology) at Washington University and Barnes Hospital in St. Louis. He subsequently joined the faculty at Washington University where he rose through the ranks to become the Conan Professor and director of Laboratory Medicine.
He has been a leading figure in the elucidation of the molecular mechanisms of cellular adhesion to the extracellular matrix, and in defining the role of adhesion molecules in health and disease. His research group is largely responsible for the discovery and characterization of collagen receptors.
Santoro has been an Established Investigator of the American Heart Association, a member of the Pathology A Study Section of the National Institutes of Health and a member of the editorial boards of blood and the American Journal of Pathology. He has been elected to membership in the American Society of Clinical Investigation (ASCI) and the Association of American Physicians (AAP), Association of University Pathologists and to fellowship in the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in recognition of his scholarly accomplishments.
Throughout his career, Santoro has played an active role in the clinical laboratory aspects of hemostasis and thrombosis. He is the author of numerous articles and textbook chapters in the field and has also emerged as a leading figure in the transformation of pathology and the introduction of personalized medicine to pathology practice.
He has served as a member and vice chair of the Personalized Healthcare Committee of the College of American Pathologists and was the founding senior editor of both the Resource Guide for Molecular Pathology and the Resource Guide for Genome Analysis published by the College.
“Chairing, first, the department of Pathology and, more recently, the department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology has without a doubt been the high point of my academic career. I will always be grateful for the opportunity to lead them at Vanderbilt. I thank Dr. Balser and his leadership team for their support in these endeavors. Most importantly, I thank the immensely talented faculty, trainees and staff who have shared the vision and by their work, energy and commitment have made this department the remarkable place it has become,” Santoro said.