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Eric White: Inroads in ILD Research

December 2014
Eric White, MD

Eric White, MD

Even in high school, Eric White, MD, knew he wanted to dedicate his life to helping people.

“I was a volunteer firefighter in high school and college, which required me to be CPR certified. But rather than simply certifying in CPR, I decided to learn more about how to help people, and I became an EMT,” he explains. “I started college planning to become an engineer but ultimately—because of my exposure to emergency rooms and doctors—I realized what I really wanted to do was to become a physician.”

Today, Dr. White, associate professor in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, is considered to be one of the nation’s leading pulmonary specialists. He primarily identifies with the title “physician,” and often sees patients as director of the sarcoidosis program, which he helped start at the University of Michigan in 2011. The clinic has quickly become a resource for referring physicians throughout the country.

Dr. White is equally regarded for his research contributions. When he started out in the field of lung cancer research as a fellow, he was pulled in another direction—interstitial lung disease. That curiosity fueled the expansion of his independent research into the fields of lung fibrosis, aging, and lung regeneration. And currently, he is making inroads in research that focuses on the role of extracellular matrix in lung diseases.

“We are working to understand how the matrix contributes to fibrosis; it’s not just an endpoint. The cells impact the matrix and the matrix influences the cells. This cross-talk, we believe, ultimately results in the lung scarring,” Dr. White says.

Despite the fact that there is no cure for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and similar diseases now, Dr. White says there are reasons for optimism, such as the recent FDA approval of pirfenidone and nintedanib for IPF, which he believes will pave the way for future advances. He also says he is encouraged by the greater focus on research he and others are conducting using human tissues. He credits his collaboration with Gift of Life Michigan, a federally designated organ and tissue recovery program, with providing this opportunity.

“Dr. White is the consummate physician-investigator; an innovative scientist and thought leader, an astute clinician, and an outstanding educator,” says Theodore Standiford, MD, chief of the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at UM.

Dr. White contributes in many ways to the ATS, including chairing the ATS Scientific Advisory Committee, and through membership in the Respiratory Cell and Molecular Biology Assembly (RCMB). A peak moment for him was co-chairing an RCMB meeting focused on biospecimens in IPF at the ATS 2013 International Conference.

“We convened a range of groups interested in IPF—pharmaceutical companies, the FDA, patient advocacy groups, the NIH and others—to brainstorm how to move forward together,” Dr. White says. “IPF is rare, it is hard to study and we need to collaborate to make progress. This was a new approach that had never been done before at ATS.”

Eric White is the consummate physician-investigator; an innovative scientist and thought leader, an astute clinician, and an outstanding educator.—Theodore Standiford, MD

Dr. White earned his undergraduate degree in psychology from Tufts University, Medford, MA, received his medical degree from SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, where he graduated magna cum laude. He completed an internal medicine residency and pulmonary and critical care medicine fellowship at UM. He has been at UM since 1995.

“What I admire most about Eric is that he is not only an excellent matrix biologist doing both basic and translational research, but he is also a generous collaborator, a trusted colleague and an excellent citizen within the scientific community,” says Bethany Moore, PhD, who directs the Graduate Program in Immunology and serves as professor of internal medicine and microbiology and immunology at UM.

Outside of work, Dr. White enjoys traveling with his family, which includes his wife, Michelle, 8-year-old daughter, Rebecca, and 11-year-old son, Ethan. In recent years, they’ve had opportunities to visit Lisbon, Prague, and Berlin. Closer to home, if he’s not in the lab or the hospital, you can often find Dr. White out on the ice—either as part of an adult recreational hockey league, or coaching his son’s Peewee hockey team.

Life in ATS
ATS Member Since: 1998
Primary Assembly: Respiratory Cell & Molecular Biology
Secondary Assembly: Clinical Problems
Committee: Scientific Advisory Committee, chair 2013-present

Last Reviewed: September 2017