• Faces of AMIA

    Russ Altman, MD, PhD

    AMIA provides a forum for interacting with other people devoted to improving health using informatics.

Russ Altman, MD, PhD

Education: Harvard AB (not BA!) in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, 1983. Stanford PhD in Medical Information Sciences, 1989. Stanford MD, 1990.

How I describe my work to those outside the field…

I work on computational methods to understand how genetic variation impacts the response to drugs. This is the field of pharmacogenomics.

Years of experience

I consider everything I’ve done in my 20+ year career relevant, but I have focused on pharmacogenomics for about 11 years.

Why informatics?

I am fascinated by computers. I want to get them to do complicated expert tasks as well or better than humans—including scientific discovery.

What are your ambitions? At the end of your career, what do you hope to have accomplished?

I would like to see the human genome used routinely in medical care, both for diagnostic purposes, treatment and prognosis.

Who or what are your key sources in the informatics field?

Ted Shortliffe, AMIA’s President and CEO played an important role in creating the PhD training program I completed, and he was also key in encouraging me to pursue bioinformatics at a time when that word didn’t even exist.

Articles that spotlight my research interests

We have annotated the complete genome of a single person and a family. (Pubmed IDs 20435227 and 21935354, respectively) We discovered an unexpected drug interaction through data mining (Pubmed ID 21613990).

AMIA is important to me because…

It provides a forum for interacting with other people devoted to improving health using informatics. The other members share my passions for both computers and taking care of patients.

I am involved with AMIA…

I am very excited about the relatively new AMIA Summit on Translational Bioinformatics, held in San Francisco each year. Because my work has focused on the molecular and genetic side of medicine, it is exciting to have a forum for AMIA to support the translation of basic biology into medicine using informatics. At this meeting, I give an annual “year-in-review” talk. I’ve done it for the past 4 years and it really is a highlight of each year for me. As long as they keep inviting me, I’ll keep doing it.

It may surprise people to know…

As an MD/PhD student at Stanford, I was going to do a PhD in biophysics. In my first year of graduate school, a computer called the MacIntosh was introduced (January 1984); I was so excited about this new device that I decided I needed to make computation more central to my work, and so I switched to the Medical Information Sciences program.So, thanks Steve Jobs.

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