September 2007 Mentor of the Month Interview: Martin Fleisher
- What is your job title and affiliation?
Chairman, Department of Clinical Laboratories
Chief, Clinical Chemistry Service
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
- Briefly tell us about your educational and career background.
B.A. in Chemistry, SUNY Binghamton (Harpur College)
M.S. in Biology, New York University
PhD in Biochemistry, New York University
Thesis focused on effects of ionizing radiation on Ribonuclease. I trained in clinical laboratory medicine at New York University Medical Center. I developed an interest in the early detection of cancer and worked on tumor marker panels to detect breast, colon, brain, ovarian and prostate cancer. As a leader in the clinical chemistry division at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, I became active in biomarker development and technology.
- What are your Board certifications?
New York State Certificate of Qualification as Laboratory Director.
- With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
New York Academy of Science
American Institute of Chemists
International Society for Oncodevelopmental Biology and Medicine (ISOBM)
Clinical Ligand Assay Society
International Society of Enzymology
- Just for fun, tell us a few interesting facts about yourself:
[I am a] Husband, father, grandfather
- Favorite activities/hobbies
Golf, hiking, sailing, cooking and bread baking.
- Favorite places you have traveled
Sandpiper Island; an idyllic, tiny island in the South Pacific surrounded by a magnificent coral reef.
- Favorite book/movie
Mystery novels/ Shawshank Redemption
- What area(s) do you specialize in?
Biomarker discovery; tumor marker assay development; genomic analysis for personalized therapy.
- What initiated your interest in this (these) area(s) and how did you eventually choose this (these) area(s) for your career?
As a member of the medical staff at MSKCC, I have the good fortune to be able to collaborate with leaders in the field of oncology. It was evident early in my career development that identifying a tumor marker(s) that can predict outcome and/or prognostic information in cancer patients would contribute significantly to management of those patients. The collaboration has been extremely gratifying: I developed and validated tumor marker assays and the clinicians provided the patient materials and clinical information.
- What are your clinical and research interests?
Biomarker discovery for the early detection of cancer and monitoring of therapy.
- What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
There are 3 areas to which I have made contributions that I believe are important. Firstly, the use of tumor marker panels to assist in the diagnosis or prognosis of cancer. Secondly, training clinical chemists to be productive and part of a clinical team. And, finally my contribution to the profession as the result of my effort in the AACC, lecturing and teaching are contributions of which I am proud.
- Are there specific aspects of practicing laboratory medicine that you find unappealing?
When your best efforts fail to help a sick patient.
- What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
I enjoy problem solving. Practicing laboratory medicine in a busy medical center provides the intellectual stimulation that makes each day unique. There is enormous satisfaction in helping clinicians manage sick patients and observe the benefits of your input. It may sound corny, but the “Eureka” phenomena still exists in science in every clinical laboratory.
Learning that in real life, practicing academic clinical laboratory medicine is more difficult than the text books suggest.
- How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
In my life, there is work and there is family. Family comes first.
- What excites you about practicing laboratory medicine everyday?
No day is like the previous day; most days are extremely challenging and rewarding; you learn from your mistakes but not quick enough. It all comes down to the basic excitement of discovering something new that can help patients survive a clinical storm.
- What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
Developments in laboratory medicine are happening so rapidly that they are a blur. The first twenty years of my career seem to have occurred in slow motion compared to advancements today. And, the next ten years will be even more incredible and challenging. A successful academic career in laboratory medicine requires special talents in addition to chemistry, cell biology and physics. Informatics, understanding how to use technology at the clinical level and a basic understanding and appreciation of the human body at the molecular level will be the new goals for the clinical chemist in 2017.
- What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
The biggest challenge for the young laboratory scientist is choosing between academic and industrial clinical chemistry. There are advantages and pitfalls in each choice which are influenced by personality, training and talent.
- What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
One of the most important suggestions I have for young scientist is to become DIVERSIFIED in terms of training and experience in the clinical laboratory. Clinical Chemistry, Microbiology, Serology, Immunology, Virology and Coagulation are converging and one would be well advised to get training in all disciplines.
- Describe how you have been able to give back or contribute to the organizations and the profession in general through your involvement in AACC.
Personally, I have participated in AACC activities over the years by teaching/lecturing and training young scientists and being available for leadership roles. I have served on the Board of Directors of the AACC; have also been Treasurer and Chairman of several committees. The AACC is my professional society and I consider it a privilege to participate whenever asked.
- How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
I volunteered to be part of the AACC leadership, committee activities and have participated in planning new scientific programs whenever asked or if the opportunity presented itself.
- Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
I wish my young scientific colleagues good luck in future. I also wish I was 20 years younger.