Remembering Nasrollah Shahidi, MD, First Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Division Head

Nasrollah (Nasr) Shahidi, MD, emeritus professor of pediatrics, died on November 30, 2015. He was the first head of the University of Wisconsin Department of Pediatrics’ Division of Hematology and Oncology, a world leader in the understanding and care of bone marrow failure syndromes, and an influential mentor to many.

Born in what is now Iran, but what he would always refer to as Persia, Dr. Shahidi initially trained in Paris. He came to the U.S. in 1954 to complete a pediatrics residency at City Hospital in Baltimore, and later completed a postdoctoral fellowship in pediatric hematology at Harvard University, where he began his research career.

In 1966, Nathan Smith, MD, then-chair of the UW Department of Pediatrics, recruited Dr. Shahidi to create a new division of pediatric hematology and oncology at UW Medical School. Here, he built a strong clinical program, continued his laboratory and translational research, trained many students and residents, and established the division’s postdoctoral fellowship program.

Dr. Shahidi was a leader in the laboratory analysis and treatment of Fanconi anemia, a rare, inherited blood disorder that can lead to bone marrow failure and leukemia. He was the first to treat a child with the disease using an innovative therapy derived from umbilical cord stem cells, a modality that is now commonly used for children with a variety of blood disorders.

During his tenure, UW-Madison became one of the initial institutions to join the Cancer and Leukemia Group-B, an early multi-institutional consortium that evolved into the Children’s Cancer Group (CCG) and is now known as the Children’s Oncology Group (COG).

In addition, Dr. Shahidi was instrumental in identifying the blood-disease-causing roles of the antibiotics phenacetin and chloramphenicol, and the pesticide DDT, and directly influenced the restrictions on their use.

He authored several books and many highly regarded manuscripts, and earned an international reputation as an innovator in pediatric hematologic cancers.

His deep legacy at UW is carried on today through current division head, Dr. Paul Sondel. Dr. Shahidi helped to convince Dr. Sondel to join the UW faculty in 1980, and to succeed him as division head 10 years later.

“Dr. Shahidi was a remarkable physician-scientist, academician, leader, mentor, physician, and Renaissance man, with many diverse accomplishments and interests,” said Dr. Sondel. “He has influenced the careers of countless pediatric hematologists/oncologists around the country and the world. I am personally grateful to him for the ways he looked out for our faculty, our team, our program and our patients.”