What will tomorrow's medical game changers be? Most important, who will bring them into being, and where? The answer to this last question is more than a matter of satisfying curiosity. It could affect the course of people's health for generations.
The developers of medical game changers can be smart, focused, and sometimes intent on their work to the exclusion of everything else. Take, for example, Dr. F. Mason Sones. This brilliant cardiologist launched the modern era of coronary revascularization in 1956 by developing coronary angiography—a technology that allows doctors to see the blockages in blood vessels that cause chest pains and sometimes heart attacks. Dr. Sones could be difficult when he didn't get his way, and he was notoriously indifferent to other people's schedules. Yet he was a gregarious man who liked to share his discoveries with his younger colleagues.
Dr. Sones was good friends with a young surgeon, René Favaloro, who had come to Cleveland Clinic from Argentina in the early 1960s to learn what he could about the developing field of cardiac surgery. When Dr. Favaloro arrived, he had little money and no local friends, but a thirst for discovery. He was surprised at how easily he was accepted as a colleague by the surgical leadership, who urged him to take advantage of Cleveland Clinic's resources for learning and discovery.
Drs. Favaloro and Sones spent hours poring over 16-mm films of coronary angiograms. They were plotting a new surgical approach to coronary artery disease—resolving blockages by cutting out the blocked portion of the artery and replacing it with a blood vessel taken from another part of the body. Dr. Favaloro performed the first published coronary artery bypass in 1967, and this procedure went on to become one of the most widely performed operations in the world. A warm, thoughtful man with a strong humanistic streak, Dr. Favaloro could have stayed in the United States and reaped a fortune from his reputation and his surgical expertise. Instead, he returned to Argentina, where at tremendous personal cost he founded his own heart clinic to bring what he'd learned at Cleveland Clinic to the underserved people of his own country.
Another Cleveland Clinic clinician, researcher, and potential game changer developer, Dr. Stanley Hazen, has made an enormous contribution to the understanding of heart disease in the past decade. He has written more than 200 peer-reviewed articles, invited reviews, and book chapters in the fields of atherosclerosis, oxidation and inflammation chemistry, and cardiovascular disease. In 2012, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute bet $4.7 million of American taxpayers' money that Dr. Hazen would be able to discover new ways to diagnose and cure heart disease, which is still the number one killer of Americans.
The wager seems to have been a sound one. In 2013, Dr. Hazen and his colleague Dr. Wilson Tang made national news by ...