Image of a cell

David G. Nathan

  • National Medal of Science
  • Biological Sciences

For his contributions to the understanding of the pathophysiology, diagnosis and treatment of thalassemia; for his contributions to the understanding of disorders of red cell permeability; for his contributions to the understanding of the regulation of erythropoiesis; and for his contributions to the training of a generation of hematologists and oncologists.

In his own words, David Gordon Nathan is a “converted pediatrician,” having been lured into the field by the prospect of studying how a blood disease develops as a patient grows. But the children are more than cold case numbers to him — in 2013 he wrote of meeting up with his several of his toddler subjects nearly 50 years later, detailing how they had grown and flourished.

Nathan’s research focuses on anemic blood diseases, in which the blood doesn’t produce enough hemoglobin, which carries oxygen. In particular, Nathan concentrated his efforts on sickle cell anemia, demonstrating how the drug hydroxyurea can strengthen hemoglobin production in fetuses, and thalassemia, a hereditary condition that Nathan discovered could be managed by using the drug deferoxamine to remove excess iron from the blood.

Nathan eventually took control of pediatrics at both Harvard University and Boston Children’s Hospital, where his encouraging attitude and collaborative spirit continues to further his accomplishments through those of his students and colleagues.

By Lauren Clason