The Future

Future Think


From Bench & Bedside Magazine, courtesy of Stanford University Medical Center Alumni Association

Philip A. Pizzo, MD, wasn’t looking for a new job. As physician-in-chief of Children’s Hospital in Boston and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, he felt he was in the right place at the right time, after a satisfying stint at the National Cancer Institute, where he had led efforts in pediatric cancer and HIV. But, in the spring of 2000, when faculty leaders at Stanford called about an opportunity there, he was willing to listen politely. Though he said he wasn’t really interested, he came to Stanford for a one-day visit. That visit opened a window to possibilities, because Dr. Pizzo found something a bit unexpected: a small, research-intensive school of medicine that shared a campus with other top-ranked programs— in basic sciences, business, law, education, and engineering—that would allow him to advance a new model of medicine. And his “no” turned to “maybe,” and by December 2001, to “yes.”

“We are a nation devoid of a healthcare system. We are No. 1 in the world only in administrative overhead costs.”

Q. You’ve said that Stanford University Medical Center does not “intend to predict the future of medicine; we intend to create it.” Why Stanford? Why now?

A. I came to Stanford because three things are important to me—the intersection of basic science and humanistic medicine, the need to reclaim the respect physicians and scientists used to enjoy, and addressing the drying pipeline of young people going into academic and research medicine.

I saw Stanford as a role model for the future, a place where the mission could be reconfigured and devoted to a set of specific goals. A new model seemed possible to me because so many critical disciplines—basic sciences, and highly ranked graduate programs in business, law, education, engineering—were right here on campus.

Q. And so far?

A. After lots of discussion on campus, we developed a strategic plan titled Translating Discoveries (see We made bold plans for every component of the school—education, research, and clinical medicine. We asked ourselves if Stanford could do something different. There are about 125 academic medical centers in this country. What’s the unique contribution we can make?

We’re training future leaders—scholars, physicians, and scientists—who will help reshape medicine. We’ve revised the curriculum to connect research and clinical experiences from day one. We want to give our students a road map, to prepare them for lifelong learning, rather than just heaping facts upon facts. We’ve introduced scholarly concentrations, which provide medical students with facultymentored scholarly experiences, supported by coursework, in areas of their own choosing. Whether a student selects bioengineering or biomedical ethics and medical humanities, immunology or women’s health, or molecular medicine, or another area of independent study, our hope is that student will find an intellectual home that will be exciting.

Educating leaders means we’re asking students to commit themselves to changing the public agenda. We want them to engage in science, politics, medicine, and religion, so that we can reclaim the public trust.

Stanford Institutes of Medicine

The Stanford Institutes of Medicine bring together faculty and students from across the university to address important issues in human health—issues that transcend the domain of any single department— and foster the translation of discoveries at Stanford’s adult and children’s hospitals, as well as local veterans’ hospitals.

Stanford Cancer Center: The center focuses the world-class expertise of more than 240 researchers and clinicians on the most critical issues in cancer research and medicine today. Members work together in multidisciplinary teams to unravel cancer’s secrets and to transform the latest detection, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention discoveries into the most advanced cancer therapies available.

Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine: At the forefront of a groundbreaking approach to biomedical research and patient care, the institute aims to harness the power of stem cells to target and remedy the root causes of cancer, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disease, neurodegenerative disorders, and other afflictions with genetic origins.

Stanford Cardiovascular Institute: Building on a rich history of leadership in research, clinical, and education programs in cardiovascular medicine, the institute explores the genetics of heart disease, the development of cardiac assist devices, new surgical techniques, and methods of repairing heart damage.

Neuroscience Institute at Stanford: Deciphering the mysteries of the human brain requires a deeper understanding of the interplay among genes, cells, circuits, and behavior. The institute’s experts investigate how the brain develops, the biological causes of developmental disorders, the mechanisms that enable the brain to recover from injury, and both normal and abnormal behavior.

Stanford Institute for Immunity, Transplantation, and Infection: To understand the immune system’s ability to defend the body against foreign invaders at the molecular and cellular level, the institute examines the immune system on three levels: how to make the immune system more effective at preventing microorganisms from flourishing; how to quell it when it attacks the body in autoimmune conditions, such as multiple sclerosis; and how to keep it from rejecting transplanted organs.

Q. What’s distinctive about our approach to research at Stanford?

A. We’re building on what Stanford has done so well over the years— not just excellence in basic science, but creating new interdisciplinary connections. That’s part of the Stanford fabric, thinking outside the box about connections between life sciences and physical sciences, social sciences, and more. Because we’re small, we’re picking certain areas where we can use our unique talents and then reach out to the rest of the university and connect to our hospitals as well. That’s led to the new Stanford Institutes of Medicine and to strategic cross-cutting across traditional academic boundaries through our institutes.

Q. How do you see the interplay between wellness and disease?

A. Over the last century, we’ve focused on disease management in medicine. But we know that most illnesses are a combination of genetics and environmental interactions. Of course, there are things we all can do to lessen our own risks, primarily exercise and diet. I’m an avid long-distance runner—about 50 to 70 miles a week—and I try to compete in at least two or three marathons a year. I’m an aged athlete, but I continue because I enjoy running. And I talk about it, because I want people to know that even with a busy life and schedule, we’ve got to make time. So, I start my day at 4 a.m., and I run and listen to abridged books on my iPod. It’s a way to expand mind and body.

Q. What are the obstacles to achieving the mission?

A. We are a nation devoid of a health-care system. We are No. 1 in the world only in administrative overhead costs. We’re heading toward a crisis. We’re facing major challenges in funding for research. We’re on a collision course between science and religion. We’re at the threshold of so many discoveries, but if we don’t have the resources, or a health-care system that allows medical care and new innovations to be made broadly available, it won’t matter.

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