MUSC remembers Donald O. Castell, M.D.

January 09, 2021
Donald Castell, M.D.
Donald O. Castell, M.D.

MUSC lost a valued colleague, researcher, and mentor on Jan. 9 with the death of Donald O. Castell, M.D., emeritus professor of medicine, and leader in the field of gastroenterology. He was 85 years old.

Castell was internationally renowned for teaching, mentoring, and researching esophageal function and disease. Among his many contributions, Castell co-authored more than 600 peer-reviewed papers and served as editor of the journal The Esophagus, the primary text in this field. Throughout his long and distinguished career, Castell mentored countless medical students, residents, and GI fellows, many of whom are now leaders in the field of esophagology.

In 2001, Castell joined the MUSC faculty in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology as director of the Esophageal Disorders Program. Within a short time, he established an impressive esophageal program and continued to nurture students and trainees, many of whom are now practicing across the world. While at MUSC, Castell established his role as a pioneer in the use of esophageal impedance testing, first in elaborating esophageal function and then esophageal disease. Several landmark studies on this subject were published in the American Journal of Physiology, Gastroenterology, Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, and the American Journal of Gastroenterology.

Castell was born in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 19, 1935. He received his medical degree from the George Washington University School of Medicine in 1960, where he graduated as a member of Alpha Omega Alpha. After residency in internal medicine at Bethesda Naval Hospital, he received his GI fellowship training at Tufts University. During his honorable career, Castell assumed a number of important leadership roles, including chief of Gastroenterology at the Naval Hospital in Philadelphia, Wake Forest University, and Thomas Jefferson University. He served as the chair of the Department of Medicine at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda where he set up an independent research laboratory studying esophageal motility disorders; and the chair of the Department of Medicine at the Graduate Hospital in Philadelphia, PA. Castell also served as the Vice-President, President-Elect and President of the American Gastroenterological Association.

Castell’s unparalleled ability to attract and empower mentees is visible across the globe with hundreds of trainees and faculty spanning over four decades, who owe their successes to his skilled mentorship.

His commitment to scholarship is evident in the numerous landmark studies he published on a variety of esophageal areas—including pH monitoring, extra esophageal manifestations of gastroesophageal reflux disease, and Barrett's esophagus—followed by his groundbreaking research on the concept of nocturnal acid breakthrough.

Castell received numerous awards for both his teaching and investigative efforts, including the AGA Kirsner Award for Clinical Research in 1992, followed by the AGA’s most prestigious award, the Julius Friedenwald Medal, recognizing a lifetime of achievement in gastroenterology.

Castell will be sorely missed by the legions of medical students, residents, and fellows he taught and mentored; and the scores of faculty whose careers he supported and guided. He was truly a giant in the field of gastroenterology and he will be forever remembered as a legendary and loved member of the MUSC family.

In remembrance and celebration of Castell’s life and contributions, the division held a special GI Grand Rounds lecture on Jan. 20 dedicated to Dr. Castell.

Honoring Dr. Castell

To honor Dr. Castell’s outstanding career, the Department of Medicine and division established the Donald O. Castell, M.D., Endowed Chair in Gastroenterology in 2017. The goal of this effort is to perpetuate his legacy as a valued teacher, mentor and leader in gastroenterology. The fund will allow us to recruit a leader in esophageal disorders and assist in the training of GI Fellows at MUSC as well as visiting fellows.