December 2007 Mentor Interview: Dennis Lo
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?
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. How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
  8. What excites you about practicing laboratory medicine everyday?
  9. What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
  10. What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
  11. What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
  12. Describe how you have been able to give back or contribute to the organizations and the profession in general through your involvement in AACC.
  13. How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
  14. 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?
    My job title is Li Ka Shing Professor of Medicine and Professor of Chemical Pathology of The Chinese University of Hong Kong. I am also the Director of the Li Ka Shing Institute of Health Sciences.
  2. Briefly tell us about your educational and career background.
    I obtained my Bachelor of Arts degree (in medical sciences) from the University of Cambridge. I then pursued my Doctor of Medicine and Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Oxford. I was previously University Lecturer in Clinical Chemistry at Oxford University Medical School and Honorary Consultant Chemical Pathologist at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. I moved back to Hong Kong, my home city, in 1997.
  3. What are your Board certifications?
    I was trained under the British system. I have a Fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians (London and Edinburgh) and a Fellowship of the Royal College of Pathologists (U.K.).
  4. With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
    I am a member of the AACC, the Hong Kong Society of Clinical Chemistry, the American Society of Human Genetics and the Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland.
Career
  1. What area(s) do you specialize in?
    My main area of interest is molecular diagnostics.
  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 involved in a research project during my medical student days in the late 1980s. During that time, the power of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) was just beginning to be realized. I began exploring a number of new molecular diagnostic applications of PCR, and then decided to pursue a career in this area.
  3. What are your clinical and research interests?
    My main research interest is the biology and diagnostic applications of cell-free DNA and RNA molecules in plasma. This is a relatively new field of research, with applications in cancer detection, prenatal diagnosis, transplantation monitoring, etc.
  4. What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
    In my opinion, my discovery of cell-free fetal DNA in maternal plasma in 1997 may be the finding that other investigators have found the most interesting.
  5. Are there specific aspects of practicing laboratory medicine that you find unappealing?
    I started my postgraduate clinical training in internal medicine and appreciated the opportunity of serving our patients in person. One aspect of practicing laboratory medicine which is less appealing is the fact that direct patient contact is far less than many of our clinical colleagues.
  6. What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
    In 2003, during the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic, our teaching hospital was severely affected. I stopped most of the plasma nucleic acid research in the laboratory and redeployed the manpower to SARS research. Over the ensuing months, we produced one of the first complete SARS-coronavirus genomic sequences from Asia, used molecular epidemiological techniques to trace the spread of the virus and developed a plasma RNA-based test for the virus. This period was challenging because I was not (and still am not) a virologist. It was rewarding because this period gave me a chance to participate in a global war against a severe threat to public health.
  7. How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
    I try to spend my Sundays with my family. I like to play golf which is a game which requires so much concentration that it takes your mind completely from work.
  8. What excites you about practicing laboratory medicine everyday?
    Immunology on the whole, is an extremely rapidly changing discipline and new discoveries made in basic immunology are probably more likely to be just as rapidly translated into clinical lab practice in the future.
  9. What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
    The issues of balancing the implementation of scientific advances through esoteric testing with reimbursement costs may be daunting and impede progress in this area if not judiciously approached.
  10. What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
    I think regardless of the discipline involved hard work is critical, particularly for young scientists, as it seems almost impossible to keep up with the advances in both knowledge and technology. Additionally the importance of seeking the right mentor besides developing collaborations with other scientists/ clinicians cannot be overemphasized.
  11. What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
    To be a success in any area requires perseverance, a willingness to work hard and also to risk failure in the pursuit of knowledge. Adaptability and resilience are also good qualities to cultivate as knowledge and technology appear to be moving more rapidly than the mind can comprehend.
  12. Describe how you have been able to give back or contribute to the organizations and the profession in general through your involvement in AACC.
    The AACC has given me an excellent forum to meet clinical chemistry colleagues from across the world. My very first conference associated with the AACC was the San Diego conference on molecular diagnostics in 1997. Through this meeting I met Dr. David Bruns, the Editor of Clinical Chemistry. Subsequently, Dr. Bruns appointed me to the editorial board of Clinical Chemistry. I have just been appointed to be an Associate Editor of the Journal. Through my involvement in the Journal, I hope to be able to participate in the process of ensuring that only the best evidence reaches our readers.
  13. How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
    Please see my answer to question 12. I think our young colleagues can start by going to conferences organized by the AACC. This would open them to valuable networking opportunities.
  14. Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
    For young colleagues who are interested in pursuing a research-intensive career, I would suggest that one should treat research as a hobby, rather than as a job. This way, being a researcher is possibly one of the best jobs in the world!
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