August 2005 Mentor of the Month Interview: Jack Ladenson
  1. What is your job title and affiliation?
    I am Professor of Pathology and Immunology and of Clinical Chemistry in Medicine and also the Oree M. Carroll and Lillian B. Ladenson Professor of Clinical Chemistry, all at Washington University School of Medicine. I am also Interim Director of the Division of Laboratory Medicine (Clinical Pathology) in the Department of Pathology and Immunology.
  2. Briefly tell us about your educational and career background.
    I have a B.S. in chemistry from Pennsylvania State University and a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry from the University of Maryland. I did a postdoctoral fellowship in clinical chemistry at Hartford Hospital, Hartford, CT with George Bowers, Jr., Bob McComb and Bob Burnett, and then came to Washington University in St. Louis in 1972.
  3. What are your Board certifications?
    I am board certified in clinical chemistry by the American Board of Clinical Chemistry.
  4. With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
    I have been involved in various activities over the years in the American Association for Clinical Chemistry (AACC). These have included the national meeting in 1981, the nominating committee, long-range planning committees, awards committee, various search committees, two periods on the Board of Directors, President in 1986 and the really fun job of being Chair of the Editorial Board of Clinical Chemistry during a transition period from 1988-1993. I have also had roles in other organizations such as the American Board of Clinical Chemistry, Commission on Accreditation in Clinical Chemistry, National Committee for Clinical Standards, and the Academy of Clinical Laboratory Physicians and Scientists. Over the last ten or so years, I have been very active in Pathologists Overseas, Inc. a non-profit organization with the goal of improving and providing affordable pathology and clinical laboratory services to under-served patients worldwide.
  5. Just for fun, tell us a few interesting facts about yourself:
    • Family
      I’ve been married to Ruth (nee Carroll) since 1968 and have a daughter, Michele, married to John Zhong and a son, Jeff, married to Lauren Marcus. We also have a grandson, Jonas Mac Ladenson (Clin Chem, 2004; 50:2211 Figure 3) and another grandchild due in early July 2005.
    • Favorite activities/hobbies
      Most of the things I work on now could be classified in this category. Research, trying to improve laboratory services in developing countries, etc. The two outside of this which might qualify is the collection of historical material (mostly related to sports) and hiking in the Tetons.
    • Favorite places you have traveled
      Most of them, particularly those with special people.
    • Favorite book/movie
      Tough one, since my favorite course in my senior year of college was the history and appreciation of the motion picture. At any rate, the Hornblower Series, Catch 22, Field of Dreams and the BBC series As Time Goes By.
    • Most fun/adventurous thing you’ve ever done
      Probably the adventure of letting David Grenache talk me into this interview.
  1. What area(s) do you specialize in?
    Clinical Chemistry and Diagnostic Test Development.
  2. What initiated your interest in this (these) area(s) and how did you eventually choose this (these) area(s) for your career?
    I was finishing my Ph.D. at the University of Maryland in Analytical Chemistry in 1970. I had interviewed and received job offers from a number of chemical and drug companies, but wasn’t really excited about any of them. Then I heard a talk about clinical chemistry by Don Young, then at NIH (now at the University of Pennsylvania and a past-president of the AACC). It sounded interesting and I asked him where you could find out more. This lead to me becoming the first postdoctoral fellow in clinical chemistry at Hartford Hospital, Hartford, CT, where I learned about people and medicine from George Bowers and clinical chemistry methods from Bob McComb and Bob Burnett.
  3. What are your clinical and research interests?
    My clinical interests now revolve around ways to improve laboratory medicine in developing countries. My research interests are still developing better biomarkers for clinical problems.
  4. What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
    In research, it would have to be developing the antibodies for the mass assay of CK-MB and the first Troponin I assay. This is described in Clin Chem, 2004; 50:2205-2213. Right with this would be working with clinical laboratories in developing countries.
  5. Are there specific aspects of practicing laboratory medicine that you find unappealing?
    Interviews and killing (fixing) the same alligator (problem) for the third or fourth time.
  6. What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
    Probably the most rewarding was the period from 1985 to about 1990 when we developed the reagents and assays for CK-MB and Troponin I and worked with colleagues to develop clinical protocols to properly evaluate the tests. As regards challenging, I think it was visualizing and implementing activities and systems and volunteers that could help upgrade the clinical laboratories in Eritrea. It took me a few years and much time with Melles Seyoum, the Director of the National Health Laboratory in Eritrea, to truly understand that there were some things that might make a difference. It was a lot of observation, learning how different cultures work, and trial and error. In many ways it was like a research project; lots of trying different things and dealing with dead ends and adjustments, but keeping the priorities in focus.
  7. What excites you about practicing laboratory medicine everyday?
    The every day excitements vary, as does the unexciting, but there is a special feeling about resolving a quality control problem, an administrative problem, or a patient specific problem that makes you feel that at that moment, your existence was of help for the health of a usually unknown individual or group of people. It’s a good feeling.
  8. What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
    The next few years will probably accelerate trends already in place. There will be continued advances in technology, which will extend the range of testing we will have available. By ten years, we should be close to being able to predict the amino acid sequence of every protein in a given individual, but I think the knowledge base to interpret it and the ethical protections to use it will lag behind.
  9. What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
    The challenges facing young scientists seem not to change that much over time. Finding a good training position and then a place to practice what you learn. Ultimately, the young should be pushing the older practitioners and the profession in new directions and this is usually their big challenge.
  10. What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
    I don’t like telling others what to do -- perhaps guiding, but not telling. One thing they might remember is that they are likely to have to look at themselves in the mirror every day. Try to make sure they live a professional life that allows for them to look at themselves and be happy with what they see.
  11. Describe how you have been able to give back or contribute to the organizations and the profession in general through your involvement in AACC.
    I believe that I have had good fortune in my personal and professional life. I have seen and met many who have not had the opportunities that I have had. I strongly feel you have to give something back to the world in some way; to share your good fortune. I also feel that if you don’t, it will somehow catch up with you. There are a variety of platitudes that apply, but the golden rule provides good practical guidance.
  12. How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
    If you want to get involved, get involved. Contact the people in governance situations and volunteer to help. The first jobs may not be terribly exciting, but one has to go up a learning curve. Waiting to be recognized from your peers is a bit too passive for most activities.
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