The birds — caught and neatly framed by the camera lens — line the wall outside Nelson Fausto’s office. There’s an eagle, a great blue heron, and baby swallows crowded into a nest, their beaks open for food.
Fausto, an accomplished amateur photographer, has also been the chair of the University of Washington School of Medicine’s Department of Pathology for 17 years. He is one of a handful of people at the top of his field: liver pathology. “It’s hard to know what superlative to use,” says Thomas J. Montine, M.D., UW professor in the Department of Pathology and the department’s interim chair. “He’s a world-class liver researcher.”
Fausto has spent his entire career studying the liver’s ability to regenerate — remarkably, a property it retains even after two-thirds of the liver’s tissue is removed. “Nelson thought, quite correctly, that this unusual property of the liver to regenerate itself — and then stop — would hold important clues to cell cycle regulation and what goes wrong in some forms of cancer,” says Montine.
This important research is an area of deep commitment for Fausto and his wife, Ann L. DeLancey, Ph.D. That’s why they established the Pathology Liver Research Fund earlier this year. “The creation of a fund will allow this kind of work to continue,” Fausto says.
Faculty mentoring is another area of immense importance to Fausto and DeLancey. To move faculty mentorship forward, they have created a recruitment and retention fund to foster the development of junior faculty. “We toss around the word ‘mentor’ a lot now, to the point that it’s almost trivial,” says Montine. But Nelson, he says, is the real thing. A genuine mentor.
Barb Prentiss, the Department of Pathology’s director and administrator, agrees. She has worked with Fausto for 16 years, watching him build the department to prominence, bringing in international scholars, and, most importantly, changing people’s lives — including her own, Montine’s and those of many colleagues. “He has been truly instrumental in supporting me and many others in building our careers,” she says.
Fausto and DeLancey are also changing the lives of Native American and Alaskan Native youth — an interest spurred, in part, by their devotion to collecting Native art. While the art gives them a great deal of pleasure, says Fausto, it also has inspired them to action.
“We thought of the difficult conditions that people endure in living on reservations, in Alaskan villages, and other places,” Fausto says. Wanting to help, he and DeLancey chose to contribute to an endowed scholarship for medical students from federally recognized tribes. They also contributed to a project that brings middle-school children from Washington tribes to visit the Department of Pathology.
“We want to help these young people see that there are broad horizons they can explore if they remain in school,” says Fausto. The kids stay overnight to see the labs, talk to researchers, look under microscopes and learn about diseases. “They get very, very excited,” says Prentiss.
Middle-school students, researchers, administrators, medical students, colleagues — Fausto has a gift for providing help when and where people need it most.
“He’s the kind of leader who lets you spread your own wings and learn to fly,” says Prentiss. “And he’s there supporting you as you do it. ”