Steven Teitelbaum, MD, Scientific Advisory Board Member
09/13/2010

Steven Teitelbaum, MD, has a simple philosophy of medical science. “I can’t know in advance if a scientific study will lead to a cure. But I can guarantee that if we don’t do the studies, we will never find the cures.”

Dr. Teitelbaum’s insight has been sharpened through an illustrious research career. After completing his medical studies at Washington University School of Medicine in 1964, Dr. Teitelbaum returned to his hometown of New York for clinical training. He came back to Washington University to finish his pathology residency, and has been here ever since.

The schooling of a scientist

Dr. Teitelbaum’s mentor at Washington University was Louis Avioli, MD, considered by many to be the father of modern research in bone biology. Building on this foundation, Dr. Teitelbaum went on to describe the origins in bone marrow of a bone-resorbing cell, the osteoclast, that is overactive in patients with osteoporosis. He brought to the US a procedure for bone biopsy developed in France, then trained physicians across the country in this technique, which is now a widely used diagnostic procedure. Dr. Teitelbaum’s lab continues to study the cellular mechanisms of osteoporosis.

“I had incredible training,” mused Dr. Teitelbaum. “Lou Avioli was a dynamic person, and he taught me to be a physician-scientist—not just by imparting knowledge, but as a role model of an imaginative, energetic researcher.”

When asked for the source of that energy, Dr. Teitelbaum was quick to praise the unique environment of Washington University. “No university that I’ve seen has the kind of scientific collaboration we have here,” he said. “There are no walls here for science, and we can exchange ideas freely. That always leads to innovation and creative problem-solving.”

Awarding excellence

As a Scientific Advisory Board member of the Children's Discovery Institute, Dr. Teitelbaum participates in the selection of the Institute’s grant awards. He looks for the kind of bold innovation that distinguishes Washington University.

“Of course, every project we choose has to display scientific rigor—a clear and adequate hypothesis and a rational methodology,” noted Dr. Teitelbaum. “But there has to be more—the possibility of findings that have broad ramifications for pediatric medicine and perhaps medicine generally.”

Dr. Teitelbaum also favors interesting collaborations and new investigators with novel approaches. He also cautions against the assumption that the chosen projects will yield every hoped-for result.

“A study is successful if you get a yes or no answer on your hypothesis,” said Dr. Teitelbaum. “Disproving one’s hypothesis can be just as important as a positive result.”

The reason, he explained, rests in the unpredictability of science itself: “You can’t assume the result before the experiment is done. Research is not linear—it’s a creative process, in which the scientist changes direction and explores new ideas in response to experimental results.” The Children’s Discovery Institute makes that process possible. Without that, said Dr. Teitelbaum, “there would be no chance for our scientists to make a breakthrough in children’s health."