CHRISTIAN ASSAD-KOTTNER, M.D. (CMO)
- Editor/Curator of Singularity University Exponential Medicine Magazine
- Founder of CPRGLASS. Contributor to FORBES and GigaOM on future of medicine
- Medical School at ITESM
- Internal Medicine at UTMB
- Cardiology fellowship at The Methodist DeBakey Heart Center
- Interventional Cardiology fellowship at University of Arkansas
- Currently Advanced Endovascular Fellowship at The Fogarty Institute Innovation
Dr. Assad is an interventional cardiologist with a deep interest in the incorporation of exponential technologies to improve healthcare. He has a special interest in information technology and computer sciences as well.
Early in his career he was granted the young investigator award by The Mexican Society of Cardiology for his research on genetic markers in acute coronary syndromes.
Shortly after graduating from medical school he initiated a year of heart failure research at The Methodist DeBakey Heart Center. Here he became the first to demonstrate the presence of anti-cardiac antibodies in the failing myocardium. His findings have been the foundation of several award-winning projects and ongoing research in the heart failure and transplant laboratory. Recently was awarded 1st place for the Best International Research Project Award at TCT/CADECI 2012.
Dr. Assad has a unique understanding on how technology can be incorporated into medicine to improve patient outcomes as well as medical education. He was named in the Top 20 HealthcareIT list (#HIT100) in 2013.
To listen to the interview, click on this MP3 file link
PARTIAL EXTRACTS AND QUOTES FROM THE EXTENSIVE DISCUSSIONS:
Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic
What factors led to your passion for medicine?
"....My grandfather was a doctor, my father is an interventional cardiologist and I think since I was a kid that was basically in my subconscious. I've always been very passionate about technology on more of the geeky-side. But when I was growing up and had to choose a career, medicine was something that I had seen for such a long time that it was obvious that there was some influence by my grandfather and father to choose that path, which I can honestly say I'm not sure I would have chosen if that were not the circumstance. Nevertheless it's been a very interesting path that I have chosen...."
What lesson can you share as Editor of Singularity University FutureMed Magazine?
"....The lesson I found most significant is called exponential med, which is basically the incorporation of exponential technologies into the way that medicine is practiced....Topics like tissue engineering, nano technology, artificial intelligence, robotics, the human elementation, etc. I think we are going to starting seeing these changes being incorporated into healthcare at a quicker pace in the coming years..."
What were the drivers for your deep interest in the incorporation of exponential technologies to improve healthcare and in information technology and computer sciences?
"....My passion for incorporating exponential technologies came even before I knew what exponential technology was. Before going to the medical career path I was thinking of electrical engineering, IT or some computer science as a career. When I chose medicine and I stayed on it I'd always been trying to implement this passion in technologies into my daily life to see how I could improve it to make me more efficient, not only for myself, but to improve the lives of patients and other practicing providers...."
Can you talk about your award-winning work with anti-cardiac antibodies and in heart failure and transplants?
"....It was a very interesting event that occurred more than seven years ago, but that finding is still going on, going stronger and hopefully it can lead to future medical therapies to either prevent or to help patients with heart failure...."
What is CPRGLASS and its value?
"..... What we did was create a very simple app which shows the potential of using wearable technology to give the best CPR possible by a bystander, so instead of somebody being scared or concerned about going ahead and helping an individual who just had a cardiac arrest, if he activates CPRGLASS he can give the best CPR possible. This gives you an understanding of how wearable technology can help an individual save a life, and if you use your imagination you can think of the ways that a technology like this could be incorporated into your daily life...."
Christian talks about what led to his fellowships?
"....Gadgets for me are very intriguing because of how we use technology to target particular diseases. It gave me an idea of how my creativity and imagination could someday lead to improving particular procedures....My incorporation of technology with medicine has led me to the Fogarty Institute which is the best place for me at this point in time to merge my interests and passion to hopefully create something with huge impact in the near future...."
What are your current and future research interests and the value to government, business, society and education?
"....The area of research that would be the most intriguing to me is incorporation of these different technologies into patient care. Even though I'm an intervention cardiologist and endovascular cardiologist, I'm very interested in ways of preventing people from actually needing the procedure....Motivating people to become healthier is what needs to happen so that is where I see myself doing research, because it's an area that I enjoy and understand really well. I think that the incorporation of wearable technology with maybe some gamification and information to patients incorporated into artificial intelligence can lead to tremendous results....."
Now let's talk about your work with Qurely. What is Qurely?
"....It's a way for doctors to share their knowledge with an individual instead of having the individual search the internet and maybe get some false advice. We aim for any patient to be able to speak with a doctor anywhere in the world, get his knowledge and information and then develop a conclusion from that. I'm not saying a diagnosis or treatment at this point in time (because rules and laws will need to change in the future because of how fast exponential technologies are going)....That is what Qurely is doing, it's basically a marketplace that uses gamification to help doctors and patients communicate in a more efficient and relaxed manner...."
Can you add more about the value of Qurely to doctors and clients or patients?
"....The value to doctors comes from being able not only to see patients from a pool in their own country or in their own state, it basically opens it out to a whole different variety of patients that might need his or her expertise, and get knowledge and peace of mind after that conversation that he or she had with the doctor....Initially we do not aim to give the patient a particular, self or individual diagnosis because of obvious reasons, even though many of the doctors to, due to legalities and regulations we are basically giving general information and we are establishing a connection between the patient and the doctor to communicate....This is the initial part of Qurely and as technology starts evolving, laws start evolving and more specific or clinic-like situations could happen, but that all depends on how it's evolving. We want to establish a friendship, a collaboration, a nice conversation between a doctor and a consumer. This way the consumer gets the best advice that could help them and hopefully in the future, this type of scenario, this type of platform can be transformed into a worldwide clinic in which a doctor in Mexico could be treating a patient any place in the world...."
What is the medical future for Qurely?
"....At this point in time it's a 'telehealth' concept in which our main goal is to initiate the communication in the relationship via the internet between patients/consumers and doctors, and that is the first step. It's getting doctors to embrace the web to embrace this new type of connection, this new way of offering their advice to patients in which hopefully in the future they can do it with the cooperation of either wearable technology, different gadgets and sensors that can monitor saturation, the electrocardiograms, microfluidics and seeing patients' labs, and they will get to a point in which maybe the physical contact will not be as important as all the other data that we would be able to obtain and use in this conversation between the two individuals...."
What are your other interests and what are the broad implications and applications of your work?
"....My interests are close to anything that surrounds or is related to the exponential technology. I use that term a lot but I think it's a very interesting one because in whichever field that you want to focus on there is tremendous potential and impact; for example, 3D printing or artificial intelligence....Once you start digging and getting into more specialized diseases the number of people you can impact becomes less so the goal right now for me (which is a very big interest), is how to use all this data which people call Big Data (that may come from different sensors, wearables, your smartphone), and how to use all this information to prevent the patient from getting sick. This will come from merging these different technologies....."
What are your most difficult challenges and what valuable lessons do you wish to share?
"....I think the most challenging in medicine is innovation; at least it has been for me....It's challenging when you want to innovate in the medical setting because there are so many rules, legalities, lawsuits and implications that it's not just about having a great idea. A great idea is as good as its execution....Learning (and you learn from failures), but failures give you experience and those failures are what has been the challenging parts in innovation in medicine. They have given me a lot of insight and slowly but surely we are getting somewhere...."
Please share your top valuable experiences and lessons from your prior history?
"....I remember throughout my career I was always saying, 'Well I was lucky.' Then somebody told me the harder you work the luckier you get and I think that has been my quote because hard work always pays....Another thing would be when you really feel passionate and strongly about something, never doubt yourself....I also believe in paying it forward. Be as friendly as possible. Treat everyone with fairness and equality and I truly believe what goes around comes around....Embrace the fear when you're innovating and when you are creating something different....Keep yourself open to career path changes...."
What specific qualities do you think make you excel and why?
"....Persistence....Creativity and imagination....Hunger to achieve something....My passion for technology and medicine....A positive personality...."
In terms of the people that you have admired over the years (perhaps in history or currently) or others, can you talk about those people who inspire you?
"....One of them without a doubt is my father. He is a very successful interventional cardiologist in the United States. He has done great things in medicine, in cardiology, and he always targets or aims for the best for the patient, the best for his country, the best for medicine....Inspiration can come from anywhere, not only from an individual, it can come from a situation, it can come from anything so I wouldn't say there is a particular individual that inspires me. I would not say that there is a particular individual that inspires me....I get inspired by many individuals...."
Is there anything that surprises you?
"....I don't understand how it is that we have so much of an extreme between the rich and the poor and not being able to do more for them....It's a feeling that I have and that is something that surprises me...."
You are involved with Qurely, you are involved with innovation, you have your medical career. Is there something you want to do next that is outside of what most people think?
"....Be able to mutate your profession and to become somebody that you never thought of....I love what I do, I love my career but I am open to new experiences, and if I believe that I can do more in a particular area that will change my original path to a certain extent, I'm okay with it...."
Can you talk about what you think may be the top upcoming disruptive innovations?
"....Big Data....When you get all this information, you get artificial intelligence and you get wearable sensors and robotics, and then what happens next? It's the automation of your job....The next thing close is 3D printing. 3D printing in the next five to ten years will have huge impact on many different levels from construction all the way to medicine...."
There are all sorts of policies both in the US and internationally, do you like to see some changes in policy?
"....It's hard because every country has their policies. Every country wants something it needs to change. They have to go through a very different level of regulations in which all those regulations (the way I see it), are obstacles to progress....At this point in time the way that our technology, our science, our research is growing or in evolution, it's in a faster, quicker pace than what our laws are able to handle....I'm not saying that the laws implemented at this point in time are wrong, I'm just saying that they will need to change, they will need to adapt to the quick pace of how technology is changing for us to be able to use it in the most efficient manner as possible...."
You travel extensively, have a varied career, done a lot of different types of work in different domains, so from your extensive speaking, travels, and experience, can you share some stories (perhaps something amusing, surprising, unexpected or amazing)?
"....The discovery of the anti-cardiac antibodies....After three months of being in the lab, going weekends and trying different stains and views and experiments I finally stumbled on something which was spotted as staining. Imagine it as different circles put together and when I was looking at the histochemistry in the microscope, I see the glowing of all these myocytes out there. When I started seeing that I thought what's going on here? In the three months I've been here I've never seen this before. So I had to go back on my steps and see what it was exactly that I did, and then what I spotted was that I had used an anti-human anti-cardiac antibody. It was then I realized that I had found an antibody that was present in the patients with heart failure...."
Do you have any additional life goals you want to achieve?
"....I guess something I realized is the amount of time that goes to my passions and to my work, but my goal is to be the best husband and father I can become. Family is first in my book, and to a certain extent what I do in my passion and in my work is to provide the best quality of life to my family....Having said that I have a tremendous passion to develop applications, services or devices that have the potential to impact not only one, two or hundred people, but thousands or even millions of people...."
Are there any other challenges (outside of medicine) that you think are facing us today that we need to put some attention to?
"....The biggest challenge that I can see is the automation of jobs that I mentioned. This is something that I am seeing as a growing trend and I think other individuals have seen it....As I said it's a tremendously exciting time that's coming, but we need to know and inform ourselves with what it is and keep an eye on its evolution, because as we all know it's increasingly becoming more rapid and substantial...."
If you were conducting this interview, is there one question that you would have asked yourself and then what would have been your answer?
"....Will machines replace doctors, or computers actually replace doctors?...."
Christian, with your demanding schedule, we are indeed fortunate to have you come in to do this interview. Thank you for sharing your substantial wisdom with our audience.