May 2005 Mentor of the Month Interview: Carl Wittwer
Biography
  1. What is your job title and affiliation?
  2. Briefly tell us about your educational and career background.
  3. What are your Board certifications?
  4. With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
  5. Just for fun, tell us a few interesting facts about yourself.
Career
  1. What area(s) do you specialize in?
  2. What initiated your interest in this (these) area(s) and how did you eventually choose this (these) area(s) for your career?
  3. What are your clinical and research interests?
  4. What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
  5. Are there specific aspects of practicing laboratory medicine that you find unappealing?
  6. What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
  7. What excites you about practicing laboratory medicine everyday?
  8. What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
  9. What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
  10. What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
  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.
  12. How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
  13. Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
Biography
  1. What is your job title and affiliation?
    • Professor of Pathology, University of Utah School of Medicine
    • Director, Advanced Technology Group, ARUP
    • CSO, Idaho Technology
  2. Briefly tell us about your educational and career background.
    As a child, I liked to take television sets apart. I liked math and physics in high school, but softened to biology and chemistry in college. Received a PhD in Biochemistry in 1982 from Utah State University, an MD, from the University of Michigan in 1984, and finished a pathology residency at the University of Utah in 1988. My first job was as an Assistant Professor at the University of Utah to run the flow cytometry laboratory and investigate new technologies. I was quickly enamored by the polymerase chain reaction, and have been working in molecular diagnostics ever since.
  3. What are your Board certifications?
    Anatomic and Clinical Pathology
  4. With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
    • AACC
    • AAAS
    • ACLPS
    • ISAC
  5. Just for fun, tell us a few interesting facts about yourself:
    • Family
      • Married 6 years to Noriko Kusukawa, PhD molecular biologist
      • One 4 year old boy, Tori.(into trains)
    • Favorite activities/hobbies
      • I still like to autopsy electronics
      • Ridge running (great in Utah)
    • Favorite places you have traveled
      • Norway
      • Kyoto
    • Favorite book/movie
      • Casablanca
      • Cabaret
      • Flatland
      • Structure of Scientific Revolutions
Career
  1. What area(s) do you specialize in?
    Molecular diagnostics, particularly PCR and real-time PCR techniques. I still direct a clinical flow cytometry laboratory.
  2. What initiated your interest in this (these) area(s) and how did you eventually choose this (these) area(s) for your career?
    During training as a resident, I liked computers and programming. Our department had just purchased their first flow cytometer to support cardiac transplantation, and I was given the chance to become the local expert on the instrument. By the time I finished residency, flow cytometry had grown to the point where my department needed faculty support for the service, and they were also looking for guidance in new technology developments that might affect the clinical laboratory. I was attracted to PCR and (eventually) molecular diagnostics because of their great potential for the clinical laboratory.
  3. What are your clinical and research interests?
    My main current clinical task is director of flow cytometry at ARUP. I also back up molecular genetics and molecular hematopathology. Research interests focus on amplification and analysis of DNA in solution, including real-time PCR and high-resolution melting analysis. I like doing simple techniques (like PCR or melting) faster or better than thought possible and applying the techniques to clinical applications. My lab works on instrumentation, software and technique development for analysis of DNA in solution.
  4. What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
    Rapid PCR, LightCycler technology, and high-resolution melting analysis for scanning and genotyping.
  5. Are there specific aspects of practicing laboratory medicine that you find unappealing?
    The day-to-day grind of high volume clinical laboratories can be exhausting.
  6. What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
    I like the process of new technology introduction. The process begins with disbelief, followed by silence, then skepticism and defining the limits of application, and finally widespread acceptance or rejection of the technology. I have followed this process for rapid PCR, real-time PCR, and melting analysis.
  7. What excites you about practicing laboratory medicine everyday?
    It’s sobering that clients trust you enough to send you their samples and expect a high-quality result. It is fun to talk with clients about cases, and a continuous learning activity.
  8. What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
    Further miniaturization, informatics and process integration will occur in molecular diagnostics, increasing the utility of results and drastically reducing prices.
  9. What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
    Finding the right place in a rapidly changing field. How much of your time will be in research, how much clinical practice, how much teaching?
  10. What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
    Find a niche that excites you and focus on becoming an expert in the area. Establish your expertise first, and then branch out through networking and organization contacts.
  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.
    As Associate Editor of Clinical Chemistry, I hope to make Clinical Chemistry the premier journal of molecular diagnostics.
  12. How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
    These organizations need people – you will not find it difficult to volunteer your time and services to professional organizations. Before you do, make sure you have clearly established your professional worth in research and clinical medicine to your department.
  13. Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
    Go for it! – Your energy is your greatest asset.
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