Q&A

with Henk Vreman

I started working in Nephrology, then Endocrinology, followed by Chemical Engineering, and finally Neonatology in the Department of Pediatrics with David Stevenson, MD, where I have worked during the past 28. Our approach is to research, with a wide range of technologies, the basic principles of aspects related to jaundice (causes, diagnosis, treatment, prevention) and then consider how we can apply what we found towards improving health of newborn in the U.S. and abroad. In other words, we practiced translational research long before it became fashionable. I find it most rewarding to work in a creative, stimulating, diverse environment with talented students, colleagues, and collaborators on campus as well as worldwide. I hardly ever experience a dull moment and the sky is usually the limit on what we can accomplish together. That's why I am still "working"!

2. What is one standout moment or memory you have of your Stanford career?

There are too many "standout" moments to mention, but the one I probably cherish most is the moment in 1983, when, now-retired hematologist Herb Schwartz, MD, directed our attention to an article in Science (1982), which he thought might be of interest to us. He was so correct! The article was regarding a drug that could potentially prevent the formation of Jaundice. Our lives in the lab and beyond have never been the same since. We are still working on drugs that can prevent jaundice, but also on many other interesting and fruitful spin-off subjects such as photooxidation, lipid peroxidation, higher plant carbon monoxide production and metabolism, phototherapy of newborns and adults etc.

3. What are some of the biggest changes you've seen?

The biggest change I have "seen" or better, "experienced" is the introduction of the computer and peripherals into the workplace and in our personal lives. Life has become much more hectic, since that time. Now, email and other forms of communication drive the pace and the scope of our daily activities. We now write our own grant applications, manuscripts and letters rather that working with a "secretary who had a manual typewriter and carbon sheets" to accomplish those tasks. No more going to Visual Arts to have them prepare illustrations, overheads, and slides, which could take weeks. No more going to the library, with its distinctive odor of books, to do a literature search that could cost days. Not to speak of data recording, analysis, and statistics. All that work is now done by each of us at our own desks - to call that change is an understatement. And then the physical changes of the Stanford campus. In the early days, I would park my motorcycle, (free of charge!!!) under the eaves at the back of the Grant building, or along Roth Way, where cars parked in the gravel/dirt lot. On my way to work from Los Altos, there were few traffic lights and no stop signs - and no traffic to speak of.

4. Do you remember your first day at work--what was that like?

Interestingly, I have had many "first days at work" but remember none of them with any clarity. I guess I'm a guy who grows into a place and then start accumulating memories.

5. What advice would you give to new colleagues/employees?

Find your own niche at Stanford. Explore your strengths and develop them to the maximum of your ability. Most of all, keep on growing, learning, helping others to do the same and let them teach you. Keep an interest in the world around you and prevent becoming "dead wood". Try to love what you do, and it will cease being work! Finally, enjoy the road/time traveled, not only the end of the trip, be that a paycheck, degree, publication, prize, or whatever.

6. What do you do when you're not here at work?

I guess, I "work" some more at enjoying what I do. I work in my garage and lab at home, inventing and developing devices for use with newborns and people with Crigler-Najjart Syndrome. In addition, I enjoy reading, keeping up with the world, gardening, outdoor sports (biking, camping, xc skiing, kayaking, etc.), and sharing some of these activities with my wife, kids, grand kids, family, friends, and colleagues.

7. What's in your future---with the School of Medicine or after?

More of the same?! I'm a pretty happy camper right now, getting paid 50% for being on campus and the right to "play in my campus sandbox" as much as I wish and working with the great people I find there. Now, when I attend conferences, I take my wife along, interact together with colleagues, who have become friends, and tag on some extra days to experience together the world not yet explored. I guess, I intend to keep on doing what I love doing as long as I stay fit and I am able to contribute without becoming a distraction or nuisance.

Henk Vreman started his career at Stanford University in 1975.

In his role as a Senior Research Scientist in Dr. Stevenson's laboratory and Laboratory Director of the Pediatric GCRC in the Department of Pediatrics, Henk has achieved a number of important contributions to the field of neonatology, such as the development of the first sensitive and accurate bedside monitor of end-tidal breath carbon monoxide, as an index of bilirubin production in neonates, characterization of drug candidates for use in the prevention of neonatal jaundice, and the development of the first phototherapy device utilizing blue-light-emitting diodes as a light source.

Henk embodies the ideal of a committed and creative scientist, who brings research from the "bench" to the "bedside" -- the true translational and clinical scientist with the general public in mind.  As a teacher, he has trained and mentored many undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate students -- most of whom have achieved successful academic careers.  He has also formed strong friendships and successful collaborations with all of his colleagues, nationally and internationally.  He is a great resource for students at all levels, as well as for all staff and faculty of the University.  Henk has a generous nature and is always willing to not only answer a question, from the simplest to the most complex, reflecting his capacity as a great teacher and role model.