- What is your job title and affiliation?
Director and CEO of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and St. Jude Endowed Chair of Pediatrics and Pharmacy at the University of Tennessee Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy.
- Briefly tell us about your educational and career background.
BSc and Pharm.D. degrees from University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center, Memphis (1973, 1974). Sabbatical year at University of Basel with Prof Urs Meyer (Pharmacogenetics). Began research career as a Research Associate (comparable to Instructor) on the faculty at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (1976). Initially focused on pharmacokinetics of antibiotics and anticancer agents in children, which evolved to pharmacodynamics, and then pharmacogenetics and pharmacogenomics. Work funded by NIH beginning in 1978 until the present time.
- What are your Board certifications?
Licensed in Pharmacy (Tennessee Board of Pharmacy), and as a Medical Laboratory Director in Tennessee. Board certified by the Am Board of Bioanalysts, Tennessee Board of Pharmacy, and as a Pharmacotherapy Specialist by Board of Pharmaceutical Specialists.
- With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
Too many. AAAS, IOM, APhA, ASHP, ASCPT, ACCP, AACR, ASCO, etc
- Just for fun, tell us a few interesting facts about yourself:
Married to Dr. Mary Relling, a faculty member at SJCRH. Two daughters, one an attorney in Nashville and the other an educator in Memphis.
- Favorite activities/hobbies
Golf, wine collecting, ball room dancing
- Favorite places you have traveled
- Favorite book/movie
Books: Catcher in the Rye; Guns, Germs and Steal; War and Peace. Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Annie Hall
- Most fun/adventurous thing you’ve ever done
Played Augusta National and Pebble Beach
- What area(s) do you specialize in?
Pharmacogenomics of anticancer agents, primarily childhood leukemia.
- What initiated your interest in this (these) area(s) and how did you eventually choose this (these) area(s) for your career?
Began with an interest in pharmacology, which evolved from pharmacokinetics to pharmacogenomics as science evolved to understand molecular mechanisms. My sabbatical year at the University of Basel was important in transitioning my clinical and translational research to include molecular genetic studies.
- What are your clinical and research interests?
Genetic basis for inter-individual differences in response to medications, especially anticancer agents.
- What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
I guess most would say it was our discovery of the molecular genetic basis for inheritance of the thiopurine methyltransferase (TPMT) deficiency, and our work to show its clinical importance.
- Are there specific aspects of practicing laboratory medicine that you find unappealing?
Oh, trying to stay two steps ahead of CAP requirements.
- What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
I think it was some of our discoveries that we eventually published in top journals. Also, my election to the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academy of Sciences was certainly a professional high point.
- How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
I am pretty sure I am not the right person to answer this question. I think you need to like your work and love your family. I have no formula for how best to balance work and life, and in my case they are often intertwined. I think I have more recently been able to decouple the two, so that I find more time when work is not in the equation! I think some would say I work hard and play hard.
- What excites you about practicing laboratory medicine everyday?
I am driven by science and the discovery of new insights into what causes patients to react differently to medications. Translating that to a lab test that improves drug treatment is the ultimate reward, I think.
- What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
Technology, bioinformatics and pharmacology will allow us to better elucidate the polygenic determinants of many drug responses. Today, most of the well-defined pharmacogenetic traits are monogenic in nature, and thus the low hanging fruit of the field.
- What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
Research funding, given the lack of priority currently given to the NIH budget.
- What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
Set out to answer important questions in a definitive manner. Question the dogma in the field, and pursue research that will change misconceptions where they exist.
- 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 have been privileged to speak at several AACC meetings, and to serve on a few committees/task forces organized by or with AACC, especially on TDM in the “early days” (1970s). Probably no records of such ancient activities.
- How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
I think it is important for one to have a forum in which to interact with others in your field. My problem is that my research and professional interests span several fields, from clinical chemistry to clinical pharmacology to clinical pharmacy to pharmacogenetics and genomics to cancer. That has translated into an involvement with many professional and scientific organizations.
- Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
Be optimistic, the future is bright. Train the next generation so you can keep the profession healthy and give back to the profession by volunteering. Have a balanced life, and most importantly have fun and enjoy life.