- With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
I have been a member of the AACC and the CSCC (Canadian Society of Clinical Chemists) since 1986, and board certified by both the ABCC and the CACB (Canadian Academy of Clinical Biochemistry). Currently, I am also a fellow of the NACB as well as the CACB (Canada), and a very active member of the IFCC serving a number of roles in that organization (Vice Chair of the Publications Division; Chair, IFCC Committee on Public Relations).
- How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
I joined both AACC and CSCC in late 1980s when I was a fellow in the Clinical Chemistry training program at the University of Toronto. I have encouraged our young trainees to become members so that they can take advantage of the many benefits offered to members (most importantly a subscription to Clinical Chemistry and Clinical Biochemistry journals).
- What area(s) do you specialize in and what initiated your interest in this (these) area(s)?
My main areas of specialty are pediatric clinical chemistry, as well as basic and applied research into mechanisms of insulin resistance and lipid/lipoprotein disorders. My interest in basic mechanistic research began when I took my first faculty position in 1988. I wanted to be active in both clinical chemistry service as well as research. To me, research is a very important component of what we do as clinical chemists and ensures our involvement in new innovations and discoveries beyond delivery of routine clinical laboratory service. My interest in pediatric clinical chemistry largely began in 1998 when I became the division head of clinical chemistry at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. The most important initiative in this area for me has been the implementation of the CALIPER project to address the critical gaps that currently exist in pediatric reference intervals. More information on CALIPER can be found at www.caliperproject.ca
- What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
I feel that my most important contributions include: a) Directing a clinical chemistry training program and contributing to training of dozens of new clinical chemists who now practice across North America; b) Initiating the CALIPER project which will make a major contribution to establishment of a new database of pediatric reference intervals, benefiting pediatric medicine across the world; and c) Advancing knowledge in my research field through the publication of high quality/high impact publications on basic mechanisms linking insulin resistance and lipoprotein disorders.
- What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
The most rewarding moments have been the new discoveries we have made in our research program, and the joy that I have felt when our new clinical chemistry graduates are successful in securing key academic positions in major medical centers across North America. The most challenging has been the constant struggle to balance all of my activities in service, teaching, and research.
- How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
I consider myself a workaholic and I do not recommend this to others. It is very important to maintain an optimal balance with family life, ensuring that sufficient time is devoted to one’s own family. I did manage (thanks mostly to my wife) to raise two kids who are both now in universities and doing well. I am really very happy about this, although I always feel somewhat guilty that I could have spent more time with them when they were young and so enjoyable to be with!
- What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
There is no question that the field of laboratory medicine is going through major advances and huge changes are ahead of us. Here in the Toronto region, we are in the midst of discussing major new changes in the provision of lab services. This will likely lead to a new service delivery model that involves consolidation of many of our specialty lab services and creation of one or more reference laboratories for non-STAT and special chemistry type assays. Rapid advances in biomarker discovery, together with new advances in multiplex testing technology as well as mass spectrometry are also likely to lead to addition of new and novel disease biomarkers to the current test menu as well as further automation of special chemistry assays (in all areas including endocrine, TDM, toxicology, manual, etc.).
- What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
I believe a major challenge for new young scientists in clinical chemistry is to ensure that they demonstrate their value to their current or potential employer/organization. As a clinical chemist, we must demonstrate (continually and relentlessly) the critical role we play in two very important areas: 1) Ensuring the quality of the lab testing performed in the clinical laboratory and the reliability of the results being reported; and 2) Acting as the interface between the laboratory and the clinical areas, and ensuring that concerns of the clinical staff are dealt with by the laboratory in an expeditious manner. The second major challenge is to ensure that involvement in routine clinical lab service is accompanied with a significant level of academic activity including education and clinical/basic research.
- What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
I recommend the following 3 goals: 1) Develop sound general knowledge of the clinical chemistry field as well as focused expertise in specific areas of clinical chemistry, 2) Develop and maintain activities in all facets of the clinical chemistry field including service, education, and research, and 3) Take advantage of your academic environment and initiate collaboration with clinical groups and basic research within and outside your institution
- Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
I think the creation of SYCL was a marvelous idea and I would just like to recommend that the activities of SYCL be more widely promoted among all trainees across North America and elsewhere.
- What is your favorite line from a movie or book?
I seem to always remember when Luke Skywaker said in the Star Wars movie (The Empire Strikes back) “May the force be with you”; I like to say that to my friends and my students!
- How did you discover lab medicine/science?
My interest in lab medicine was triggered when I was working on my senior year undergraduate project and chose to work on a study investigating the effect of oral contraceptives on glucose tolerance in women. Performing oral glucose tolerance tests and then helping to measure plasma glucose and other parameters really opened my eyes onto the field and this eventually led to graduate studies in biochemistry and postdoctoral work in clinical biochemistry.
- If you could start your career again, what would you do differently?
I am pretty happy with my career path, so I would not change much. Perhaps, would better balance my career and family life, and spend more time at home with the kids!
- What is strangest occurrence you’ve encountered in the lab?
Don’t recall anything really strange, except perhaps when I realized during my training days that there are significant differences in normative reference values between various ethnic groups for tests, particularly enzymes. I initially found this strange although later it made a lot of sense that ethnic differences should be taken into account when interpreting lab results and applying reference intervals in different populations.
- What is the riskiest thing you've ever done?
Boiling and distilling phenol which caused a small explosion in the lab! This happened when I was a graduate student in the 80s and we had to distill phenol to get better purity for DNA/RNA isolation. Fortunately, no one has to this anymore as there are now very pure reagents available.
- What is the biggest difference you notice between laboratory medicine practices in Canada versus other countries?
Lab medicine services in Canada are largely funded centrally by state governments and this has a major impact on lab practices. We have a very large country which is sparsely populated. Significant variation exists in quality assurance practices from province to province. On a happy note, we have a very close-knit community of clinical chemists in Canada who get along very well and are constantly in touch (via a listserv).
- What is the most challenging lecture/class/audience you have had to deal with and why?
Teaching a very large medical class (with almost 250 medical students; I teach them lipid metabolism). These are all very smart kids who can readily question you if you show lack of confidence in what you are presenting during a lecture. The key to success here is being very confident in what you teach and they can see and respect that. Fortunately, I receive very good evaluations.
- What is one thing that most colleagues in AACC do not know about you?
That I am a very active basic researcher who (in addition to my clinical service lab responsibilities) supervises a basic research lab with more than a dozen fellows (graduate students, postdocs, technicians, summer students, and visiting scientists from around the world); this means constantly competing for research grants and publishing in basic research journals (the only way to support a large basic research program).