Welcome to The Short Read, our weekly peek behind the curtain at the people who make this amazing community tick. Make sure to check back every Tuesday for the latest installment. 

In our final edition before Christmas, we spoke to David Smith, Professor of Laboratory Medicine And Pathology at the Mayo Clinic. An early adopter and vocal advocate of next generation sequencing, David currently chairs the Technology Assessment Committee for the Center for Individualized Medicine at the Mayo Clinic, examining technologies that could have a dramatic impact on both research and its translation to clinical practice. NGS technology also features heavily in his own research, which explores common fragile sites in the human genome, and the role that human papillomaviruses play in the development of a variety of different cancers. 

David Smith

David Smith, Professor of Laboratory Medicine And Pathology at the Mayo Clinic

What are you working on right now?

Right now we are working on two main things. The first is to utilize the power of next generation sequencing to study the physical status of human papillomavirus (HPV) in different HPV-driven oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinomas. The second thing is to determine the role that specific extremely large common fragile site genes play in the development of different cancers. This is also being explored utilizing NGS.

What’s the biggest challenge you face in your work at the moment?

While most might say bioinformatics, the reality is that in 2016-2017 you can get access to good bioinformatic support, if you can afford it.

The technologies of sequencing are sufficiently mature that they are now powerful reproducible tools to generate sequence data. The biggest challenge, by far, is funding. What good is it having these incredible technologies, in an environment when it’s becoming increasingly difficult to obtain extramural funding?

Name one big development that you would like to see in your field the next 18 months.

I’d like to see the Oxford Nanopore sequencing platform really take off. However, in order for this to happen they need to increase sequence output dramatically and make a number of other important improvements within 18 months.

In terms of my own work, I’d like to see much more respect for the common fragile sites and the very large very interesting genes that reside within these highly unstable chromosomal regions.

What are you most proud of in your career?

Discovering that contained within the most highly unstable chromosomal regions were a group of extremely large genes that link normal neurological development to cancer.

Which scientists, living, dead, or fictional, would you invite to dinner, and why?

Sherlock Holmes as played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Brilliant, crazy, but apparently also liked to party. Freeman Dyson. The entire concept of the Dyson sphere was absolutely brilliant. I’d love to talk to him about space.

What advice do you wish someone had given you at the start of your career?

That it was the interpersonal skills of running a laboratory and being a collaborator that are the real keys to scientific success. We were trained to do science, and got no training in this important aspect of being a successful independent investigator. 


The Short Read will return on January 10, so keep an eye out for a sneak peek at who will featured in 2017.

Happy Holidays Short Readers!


Why not check out The Short Read archives?

George Church – “Follow your dreams, not the drove”

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”