American Association for Clinical Chemistry
Better health through laboratory medicine
May 2008 Mentor of the Month Interview: John Savory
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 now retired as Professor Emeritus of Pathology at the University of Virginia.
  2. Briefly tell us about your educational and career background.
    I was born in the North of England and received my formal education in that part of the world. I attended Durham University in the Northeast of England and received my B.Sc. honours chemistry degree in 1958 and Ph.D. degree in organic chemistry (fluorine chemistry) in 1961. As was common practice at that time, I came to the United States for postdoctoral training. I was offered a position to continue my fluorine chemistry research at the University of Florida and embarked on this adventure in August of 1961; I travelled by sea on a freighter which was quite an experience. It soon became obvious to me that there would be better opportunities in the US for me as a scientist and I decided to stay permanently. I initially continued my career as researcher in organic chemistry and took up a position with Chemstrand in the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina working as a polymer chemist. However, this type of research did not suit me and my intuition induced me to apply for the first formal training program in clinical chemistry with Dr. Alex Kaplan at the University of Washington in Seattle. I say “intuition” since I had not seen a clinical chemistry laboratory and knew little about the field but I felt that it would be a “good fit” for me. How right I was. I thrived in Seattle and after two years I was offered the directorship of clinical chemistry and microscopy at the University of Florida, this time in Department of Pathology not Organic Chemistry. I rose through the academic ranks in Florida from Instructor to Associate Professor with tenure and eventually moved to a similar position at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill where I achieved the rank of full Professor. Eventually in 1977 I moved to the University of Virginia where I concluded my career. At Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, I established training programs in Clinical Chemistry and am extremely proud of the accomplishments of my former students several of whom have made an impact nationally in the field of clinical chemistry.
  3. What are your Board certifications?
    I am certified by the American Board of Clinical Chemistry having obtained this certification by examination in 1967.
  4. With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
    At this stage of my career I am an emeritus member of the American Chemical Society, Association of Clinical Scientists, Society of Neuroscience, Academy of Clinical Laboratory Physicians and Scientists, National Academy of Clinical Biochemistry and Sigma Xi. I was a member of the Royal Society of Chemistry for many years but let this membership lapse.
  5. Just for fun, tell us a few interesting facts about yourself:
    • Family
      I have been married to my wife Gerry for over 30 years. Gerry was Canadian (now American as I am also) and trained as a medical technologist at the Vancouver General Hospital. We worked together for a long time until Gerry retired in 1995. I have two children, a son and daughter, two step children and seven grandchildren from this combination.
    • Favorite activities/hobbies
      My favorite activities are golf, to which I have finally been able to dedicate some time since my retirement, and the breeding and showing of Irish Setters and Rhodesian Ridgeback dogs which has been an obsession of mine for 45 years. I both exhibit and judge dogs and have had assignments all over the world.
    • Favorite places you have traveled
      My favorite places to which I have travelled are South Africa, Australia and Jordan. I have been fortunate in that clinical chemistry has allowed me to visit these countries and many others.
    • Favorite book/movie
      My favorite book is Anna Karenina and my favorite movie is Laurence of Arabia; the latter really “dates” me.
    • Most fun/adventurous thing you’ve ever done
      The most adventurous thing I have done was to spend three months in Saudi Arabia at the King Faisal Hospital in Riyadh and a close second was to volunteer as a consultant in Kathmandu, Nepal. I owe both of these experiences to clinical chemistry.
Career
  1. What area(s) do you specialize in?
    I really did not specialize in one particular area. My entire career was spent as director of all of the clinical chemistry laboratories which included general chemistry, toxicology, endocrinology and, eventually, molecular diagnostics. Thus, being a clinical chemist I had to be a “jack of all trades and master of one” and the “one” was probably “two” – automation and metal toxicology.
  2. What initiated your interest in this (these) area(s) and how did you eventually choose this (these) area(s) for your career?
    I really fell into the field of automation by necessity. When I started out in clinical chemistry there was little automation with most tests being performed in test tubes with manual pipetting. We performed calcium measurements once per day, LDH assays on Wednesday and alkaline phosphatase on Friday. Automation was essential to the development of the field and I believe that I played a significant role in this development. One of the first two or three clinical laboratory computer systems was developed at the University of Florida under my “watch” and that of my boss and friend Dr. Bill Sunderman Jr. In fact Bill stimulated my long term interest in metal toxicology which eventually led to my work in neuroscience.
  3. What are your clinical and research interests?
    My early research was in the above fields particularly in automation and metal toxicology. I became one of the early researchers in iatrogenic aluminum poisoning in patients with chronic renal failure on long term hemodialysis treatment. Eventually I expanded this work to studies of mechanisms of neurodegeneration by using a rabbit model system where I induced neurofibrillary degeneration by the intracerebral injection of aluminum maltolate. We worked on the hypothesis that neurodegeneration is a result of abnormal induction of apoptosis regulated by interplay between mitochondrial and endoplasmic reticulum stress. This research led to significant funding in my later years and gave me much satisfaction.
  4. What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
    My most significant contributions have really been in my early work on automation and the fact that my laboratory developed the concept of remote monitoring of clinical laboratory tests which was patented and marketed by Medical Automation Systems under the RALS logo. I also organized one of the very first core laboratories at the University of Virginia established in 1994 and directed this operation for about a decade. However, the most satisfying of my contributions was my role nationally and internationally in establishing guidelines and techniques for aluminum testing for dialysis encephalopathy and osteodystrophy which has resulted in the virtual elimination of these deadly complications of hemodialysis treatment.
  5. Are there specific aspects of practicing laboratory medicine that you find unappealing?
    I find the proliferation of regulations and red tape the most unappealing aspect of the practice of clinical laboratory science. The insidious control of the clinical laboratory by non-scientific administrators has had a negative effect on both quality and efficiency.
  6. What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
    The most rewarding times that I have experienced have been my recognition by AACC and the Association of Clinical Scientists for my efforts. Also rewarding has been the success of many of my students and former colleagues. Two of my students have risen to be President of AACC and my former associate and dear friend, David Bruns, was a wonderful editor of the Journal (Clinical Chemistry) for a long time.
  7. How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
    It is important to have a balance between work and life. I have the ability to multitask and was able to be intense in my work and focus on service activities but still publish. I estimate that I published a full length paper about every six weeks for well over forty years. I took this type of intensity to my other activities of breeding and showing my dogs and for many years as a runner – I ran many long races including marathons. Since I retired I now have a similar intensity to improving my golf game and I practice constantly and am obsessive about taking lessons. I would advise young clinical chemists to have outside interests and become as involved with them with intensity and dedication off-duty in a similar manner as they are with their clinical chemistry careers.
  8. What excites you about practicing laboratory medicine everyday?
    I was always excited about everyday activities in my career since I was able to combine directing a large service laboratory with all of its problems with a substantial research program. I also was able to be involved in teaching at different levels which was always satisfying.
  9. What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
    It is now five years since I retired and I am not as involved in the field sufficiently for me to predict advances over the next ten years. I do feel that advances in the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease are on the horizon and will involve the clinical laboratory. Also, better algorithms for automatic verification of laboratory results will be developed. Present day approaches to autoverification are simplistic, to say the least, despite the fact that this is a real time saver and a means for improving quality of test results.
  10. What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
    Challenges facing young scientists in clinical laboratory science are in wresting control of the clinical laboratory from the administrators so that significant advances can be made. I would never have been able to develop toxicology and molecular diagnostic laboratories in the present day environment. However, the greatest challenge is in obtaining research funding since I firmly believe that a significant number of clinical chemists should combine service work and research.
  11. What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
    Specific goals should be to maintain a state-of-the-art laboratory offering the most recent advances in test development. The main goal is to recognize the needs of the patient. Over the past five years I have been a patient many times and have depended on the clinical laboratory for my own well-being. I can assure you that when you are lying in an emergency room bed, it is important to have prompt and accurate test results transmitted to the clinician. You achieve these goals by hard work and keeping up with the literature. You also need to avoid wasting time in meaningless meetings; some communication is essential but too much time is wasted by unnecessary administrative activities.
  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.
    I have not been as active in AACC as some clinical chemists of my era. I was on the Board of Directors of AACC for a while many years ago but my research efforts as well as teaching and service precluded extensive outside activities. However, I believe that my training of young clinical chemists who became active in AACC was one way that I did contribute to AACC. Also, I was the secretary/treasurer of the ABCC for a while and have contributed to the Association of Clinical Scientists in a few ways including the hosting of national meetings.
  13. How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
    Obviously, it is essential for young clinical chemists to become involved in AACC. I was lucky in that I was one of the very first clinical chemists to be formally trained and was soon accepted in AACC circles. I suggest getting involved in local sections and making it known that you want some involvement in national activities. Usually it is not difficult to be invited to participate if you are willing to work. The best way to become recognized is to publish significant papers and write articles for the less formal publications such as Clinical Laboratory News.
  14. Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
    My advice for young clinical laboratory scientists is to always be willing to learn from others, keep up with the literature, maintain an active research program and avoid becoming arrogant and pompous in middle age. Finally, bow out gracefully when the time comes so that you can make way for a younger, more energetic clinical laboratory scientist.