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Division of Hematology

History of Hematology and the Division of Hematology at UNC

The University of North Carolina has a long history of seminal contributions to the field of hematology. Many of these initial contributions were performed by faculty members in both the inaugural Division of Hematology and the Department of Pathology. Kenneth Brinkhous was Chairperson of the Department of Pathology for over 25 years, and his laboratory made a number of discoveries in the field of hemostasis and thrombosis. Dr. Brinkhous’s laboratory was the first to demonstrate that patients with hemophilia lacked a protein that he termed anti-hemophilic factor and is now termed factor VIII. The group at UNC-Chapel Hill led by Dr. Brinkhous developed the partial thromoplastin test to detect clotting disorders and performed ground-breaking work on enhancing our understanding of von Willebrand Disease. Additionally, his group performed influential work characterizing the role of thrombosis in the pathogenesis of stroke and myocardial infarction.
The Division of Hematology started in 1952 when the UNC School of Medicine became a four-year medical school. The initial Division Chief was Jeffress Palmer MD who was recruited from the University of Utah where he trained with an eminent hematologist, Max Wintrobe MD. Dr. Palmer recruited the first group of physicians that comprised the Division of Hematology. This included John Parker MD who was involved in the discovery of water channels in red cells that led to a Nobel Prize in Medicine to Peter Agre MD, a former fellow at the University of North Carolina, and Harold Roberts MD who worked with Dr. Brinkhous to develop the first plasma-derived factor VIII concentrate that eventually came into widespread use as a home treatment for patients with hemophilia. In addition to his role leading the Division of Hematology, Dr. Palmer set up the hematology laboratory in the hospital and the blood bank.

In 1968, Dr. Roberts became the second Chief of the Division of Hematology. By 1979, it was clear that cancer patients, who were managed by hematologists and surgeons, required a specific expertise within the Department of Medicine. Thus, the Division of Oncology was formed, and there were separate divisions of hematology and oncology from 1981-1994. In 1994, the divisions were combined under the direction of Beverly Mitchell MD. The Divisions remained combined under the directions of Richard Goldberg MD and Lisa Carey MD. In 2019, a decision was by Ronald Falk MD, Chair of the Department of Medicine, to separate the Divisions once again with Dr. Jonathan Serody an expert in transplantation immunology and cellular immune therapy as the Division Chief of the new Division of Hematology.

In addition to the pioneering work on hemophilia and clotting factors performed at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the institution and its researchers are acclaimed for work on tissue factor, inflammation and thrombosis, the development of proteasome inhibitors for the treatment of patients with multiple myeloma, the discovery that proteins involved in the migration of T cells are critical for the induction of acute graft-versus-host disease, the development of novel approaches for the treatment of patients with sickle cell disease, and the generation of cellular therapy for the treatment of patients with Hodgkin Lymphoma.