“Always question; never accept dogma” – Eric Topol
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.
This week we have the person who once topped our poll of who you would most like to see interviewed in FLG magazine (we obliged in our December 2015 issue). Eric Topol has been voted ‘Most Influential Physician Executive in the United States’ in a poll conducted by Modern Healthcare; he’s been named a ‘Rock Star of Science’ by none other than GQ magazine; and some of you have even gone as far as describing him as ‘God’. As Director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute, Eric is a powerful advocate for getting genomics effectively integrated into healthcare. He has been especially vocal in his support for giving patients free and open access to all their medical data, from blood tests to full genome sequences.
What are you working on right now?
The main project is the Precision Medicine Initiative—we are leading the All of Us Participant Center and set to begin enrollment of 1 million individuals in early 2017. It’s clearly the most ambitious medical research program in American history.
But while that is moving forward, we’re continuing to work on digitizing human beings via sensors, smartphone physical exam and imaging attachments, sequencing and other tools to promote individualized medicine.
What’s the biggest challenge you face in your work at the moment?
Data analytics. We working with massive data sets of millions of people with multiple sensors and can see through the imminent time when we have “panoromic” (genomic and other omics, physiologic, anatomic, environmental , etc) data to deal with.
Name one big development that you would like to see in your field the next 18 months.
I wish it would happen in 18 months, but it will undoubtedly take longer. It would be that every individual has the civil right to own (not just access) (all) THEIR medical data.
What are you most proud of in your career?
A few things, including training over 100 physician scientists, who are presently working in all continents except Antarctica; starting a new medical school; spearheading some major research programs; and my 2 books (Creative Destruction of Medicine and The Patient Will See You Now)
Which scientists, living, dead, or fictional, would you invite to dinner, and why?
I’d like to re-assemble some of the greatest innovators of the past. The group would include Nikola Tesla, Marshall McLuhan, Alan Turing and Joseph Schumpeter. Each were rebels in their time and to deal with rejection of their ideas. There is so much to learn from their experiences.
What advice do you wish someone had given you at the start of your career?
Think big and act bigger (go after big ideas, not small incremental ones, even if it fails). Always question; never accept dogma. Tell it like it is.
Check back on January 24 when Kristen Sund of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital will be sharing some of the challenges and triumphs involved in bringing genomics into hospital practice.
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”
David Smith – The “real keys to scientific success”
Hannes Smárason – The importance of Grit