“Like a Detective Solving a Puzzle” – Valentina Nardi
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Much of making a medical diagnosis is a complex puzzle-solving exercise, particularly where tumours in all their enormous complexity are involved. As a pathologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, Valentina Nardi is often called upon to channel her inner Sherlock Holmes to work out what is wrong with a patient! And while genetic testing is fast-becoming a powerful tool in a medical detective’s kit, there are still more than a few hurdles to overcome.
What are you working on right now?
I do both traditional surgical pathology and molecular pathology. Basically, I make diagnosis and direct genetic testing for patients who have tumors. I’m like a detective solving a puzzle! Right now, I am trying to launch some new genetic tests for patients who have blood cancers, to inform their treatment and match the genetic profile of their cancer with therapy that specifically targets that profile. I’m excited about this!
What’s the biggest challenge you face in your work at the moment?
Lack of FTE’s…there just aren’t enough people available to help develop more of this kind of genetic test. Most of the staff are busy working clinically; they don’t have as much time to develop new tests as we would like.
Name one big development that you would like to see in your field the next 18 months.
I would like to see liquid biopsies used more commonly for diagnosis. It would also be great to have some more functional assays; in other words, tests that would let us find the Achilles heel of cancers, and whether mutations are pathogenic or not. Genome editing technology, like CRISPR, will be helpful here.
What are you most proud of in your career?
That this is really my third career! First, I was a haematologist/oncologist in Italy, then a scientist when I did a postdoc for a few years. Now I think I’ve nailed it…I’m probably the happiest I’ve ever been.
Which scientists, living, dead, or fictional, would you invite to dinner, and why?
Leonardo da Vinci! And the PI with whom I did my post-doc, George Daley. He is knowledgeable, easy to talk to, and he loves good wine and food. And he’s about to become the Dean of Harvard Medical School!
What advice do you wish someone had given you at the start of your career?
Learn to code! I really need bioinformatics to be able to review and analyze data, but my hands are tied when I’m so dependent on people who know how to code.
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Why not check out The Short Read archives?
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Amalio Telenti – Defying the “exome-centric” view
Anna Middleton – “It’s ok to be a bit creative and entrepreneurial”
Nan Doyle – “Get clear on what matters to you”
David Smith – The “real keys to scientific success”
Hannes Smárason – The importance of Grit
Eric Topol – “Always question; never accept dogma”
Kristen Sund – “You don’t change culture overnight, it happens in baby steps”
Manuel Corpas – “Don’t rely on the future to make your choices now”
Brendan Gallagher – “Let your work’s ripple effects help sort the future out”
Hayley Robinson – When technology outpaces policy
Opinions and views expressed in The Short Read are the interviewee’s and not those of the home institution