American Association for Clinical Chemistry
Better health through laboratory medicine
October 2008 Mentor of the Month Interview: Nader Rifai
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. 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?
    I am a professor of Pathology at Harvard Medical School, the Louis Joseph Gay-Lussac Chair in Laboratory Medicine and Director of Clinical Chemistry at Children’s Hospital Boston. Recently, I was appointed the Editor-in-Chief of Clinical Chemistry.
  2. Briefly tell us about your educational and career background.
    I received my undergraduate degree in biochemistry from the University of Damascus and my PhD in clinical chemistry from the Medical College of Virginia. After completing my post-doctoral training in clinical chemistry at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, I was appointed the Assistant Director of Clinical Chemistry at Children’s Hospital in Washington DC with a faculty appointment at the George Washington University Medical Center. Five years later, I moved to Boston to assume my current position.
  3. What are your Board certifications?
    American Board of Clinical Chemistry (Clinical Chemistry)
  4. With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
    Mainly the AACC.
  5. Just for fun, tell us a few interesting facts about yourself:
    I am married and have two kids, a girl of 21 who is a senior at Loyola University studying Business Administration and a boy of 16 who is a junior in high school. We travel frequently to Iceland since it is my wife’s native country. Although I enjoy reading good books, gardening, and watching foreign movies and MASH, my favorite pass time at the present is drawing with pen and ink. Recently, I discovered hiking!! It is difficult for me to come up with a single favorite book so I narrowed it down to three; Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Saramago’s Blindness, both stay with you for the rest of your life and provide you with a great insight into human psyche, and Garcia Marquez’ A Hundred Years of Solitude, the story of human and society that said it all. My favorite movie, I think, is the Leopard by Visconti (the Italian, not the American version). Although Paris is my favorite city, my best trip was to Egypt with my son and my two best friends; the cruise on the Nile from Aswan to Luxor was terrific. The most adventurous trip, which I also took with my son and two great friends, was to Canaima in the Venezuelan Amazona region where we climbed to the base of Angel Falls after a long canoe trip in a somewhat violent river at the end of the rainy season.
Career
  1. What area(s) do you specialize in?
    My main area of interest has focused on biomarkers of cardiovascular disease
  2. What initiated your interest in this (these) area(s) and how did you eventually choose this (these) area(s) for your career?
    In early 1980’s, research on apolipoproteins was in its infancy and my graduate school advisor was a lipid expert. So for my graduate work, I developed assays for apolipoproteins, several of which became commercially available, and studied these markers in a variety of disease conditions. I continued to work on lipids, lipoproteins and apolipoproteins and their association with coronary heart disease risk for two decades. In the past 12 years, my research has focused on the contribution of inflammation to atherogenesis and the identification of inflammatory markers for the prediction of plaque vulnerability.
  3. What are your clinical and research interests?
    See above.
  4. What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
    My most important contribution has been in the development of the utility of CRP in cardiovascular disease risk prediction.
  5. Are there specific aspects of practicing laboratory medicine that you find unappealing?
    I am not particularly fond of the regulatory and financial aspects of lab medicine.
  6. What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
    When my dear friend and colleague Paul Ridker and I started working and lecturing on the utility of CRP in cardiovascular disease, needless to say, our message was not well received and the skeptics abounded. Therefore, is was very gratifying when JUPITER, a clinical trial of individuals with high CRP and low LDL who were randomized to statin or placebo and followed for four years, was terminated ahead of schedule because of overwhelming positive findings.
  7. How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
    Young scientists should strive to have a balanced life, it is not easy to achieve but essential for their development and wellbeing. They should develop an interest that has nothing to do with either science or work; for example family, music, art, literature, politics, even sports!! Do not be a boring scientist; God knows there are plenty of those.
  8. What excites you about practicing laboratory medicine everyday?
    The variety of issues that we deal with daily; a scientific problem, an administrative challenge, a successful experiment, and a satisfied physician, all in the course of a day.
  9. What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
    I believe we will soon start reaping the benefits from the recent revolutionary changes in the genomics and proteomics fields. The role of the clinical chemist will be crucial in properly validating the novel markers and assuring their transition to routine clinical service. This is a tremendous new opportunity for us.
  10. What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
    For those interested in research, whether it is basic, applied or clinical, funding is going to be harder to obtain than in the past. For those practicing clinical chemists with service interest, I am concerned that they are overly busy with routine responsibilities that span over a too wide of an area to master in clinical chemistry; they have no time to think or develop an expertise in a particular area of the lab. Regrettably, the labs that once had 5 clinical chemists now have 2 and those that had 3 now have 1!
  11. What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
    In choosing your first position, always go to the institution that offers you the biggest challenge and the best opportunity for growth. Never underestimate the importance of a good mentor and never choose a position simply because it pays more; if you have a good start and you are on the right path, money will come later!! Do not shy away from taking risks and do not wait until you are “ready and prepared” to do things, by then it may be too late. Just do things and learn along the way, even from painful mistakes. There is a saying in French “celui qui ne fait rien ne casse rien”; those who do not do anything do not break anything, so please do not be one of those. Fight for your own ideas, nobody else will, and do not concern yourself too much with the critics. One of my wisest mentors once said “in academia there are three types of people, those who do, those who do not and those who criticize those who do”. Just develop a thick skin and keep going. My last advice, keep a balanced life and do not lose sight of the big picture.
  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.
    In the past 20 years, I have been active in the AACC, NACB and ABCC at many levels. I started by editing the lipid division and the NACB newsletters, serving on committees, and giving lectures whenever I was asked at local sections and at annual meetings. With time, I developed the name recognition to be elected on the board of all three bodies. The AACC is an excellent avenue for laboratory scientists to develop name recognition and to give back to the profession. Volunteer and be generous with your time, within reason.
  13. How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
    See above.
  14. 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.