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Allan Walker is the Conrad Taff Professor of Nutrition and Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.
Until July 2001 he was Chief of the Combined Program in Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition at Boston Children's Hospital and at the Massachusetts General Hospital for Children. He has stepped down as Chief of the Combined Program to head a newly established Division of Nutrition at Harvard Medical School and to be the Principal Investigator of a NIH-funded Harvard Clinical Nutrition Research Center, a program to promote nutrition investigation within the Harvard medical community.
Dr Walker received a medical degree from Washington University in St. Louis in 1963. He then trained in Pediatrics and Immunology with Dr Robert Good at the University of Minnesota Hospitals, before joining Dr Kurt Isselbacher at MGH to train in Gastroenterology. Since 1972, Dr Walker has been Division Chief, initially of the Pediatric Gastroenterology Unit at the MGH (1972), and then of the Combined Program with Boston Children's Hospital (1982), and now has new responsibilities at Harvard Medical School.
Dr Walker's research is in the ever-expanding field of mucosal immunology. After a sabbatical in 1992 at the Pasteur/Curie Institutes with Dr Daniel Louvard, Molecular and Cell Biology Department, he has focused his research on the development of intestinal host defenses in the human fetal and newborn intestine. Most recently he has concentrated on the development of microbial-epithelial "crosstalk", innate immune responses and the role of commensal (probiotics) flora on the maturation of host defense. His clinical interests are the pathogenesis of necrotizing enterocolitis and food allergy.
- What made you decide to become a gastroenterologist?
- Having trained in Pediatrics with a special interest in Immunology, I naturally gravitated to Gastroenterology as a subspecialty. Since the field of Pediatric Gastroenterology was underdeveloped at that time, I trained in Medical Gastroenterology and established a career-long association with Dr Kurt Isselbacher and Dan Podolsky at MGH, as well
as spending my entire medical career at Harvard Medical School.
- Who was the teacher you admired the most?
- The two academic physicians that I most admire are, Robert Good for his insatiable curiosity on the immunological mechanisms of disease, and Kurt Isselbacher as a role model for academic excellence and leadership in Gastroenterology.
- Which research paper influenced you the most?
- The notion that mucosal surfaces may have a unique immune system has always intrigued me. Chodiker and Tomasi published the paper that first suggested this possibility in Science in 1963 (Chodiker WB, Tomasi TB: Gammglobulins. Quantitative relationships in human serum and non-vascular fluids. Science 1963; 142: 1080-1). This observation opened the field of mucosal immunology and made research in gastroenterology for me more exciting.
- What is the most important fact that you have discovered?
- I was fortunate to be working with Drs Kurt Bloch, (Clinical Immunology) and Kurt Isselbacher (Investigative Gastroenterology) as a junior faculty member when we demonstrated for the first time that mucosal antibodies limited the uptake of macromolecular antigens from the gut (Science 1972; 177: 608-10).
- What is the biggest mistake that you have made?
- I failed to recognize early in my research career the active contribution of the enterocyte to mucosal immune function. This area of investigation is currently very active and has helped explain the mechanisms in many gastrointestinal infectious/immune-related diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease.
- What is your unfulfilled ambition?
- As a first generation American, I ignored the sport of soccer and pursued more traditional American sports. In retrospect, I would have enjoyed competing in this sport.
- How do you relax?
- Physical activity (swimming, biking, etc.), and reading novels.
- What is your favorite sport?
- What is your best place in the world?
- Silver Lake, New Hampshire.
- What is your favorite film?
- "Chariots of Fire".
- What car do you drive?
- A Ford Explorer.
- What is your best electronic 'toy'?
- Palm pilot.
- What book are you reading at the moment?
- "Dubliners" by James Joyce.
- Why did you get in involved in GastroHep.com?
- It represents the new way to communicate current observations in gastroenterology to the medical community.