Saturday Morning at UTSW is No Time for Slouches

It’s the sort of advice one usually hears at the end of some multi-year accomplishment, like the awarding of an undergraduate degree or the completion of arduous training: “don’t be afraid to test the boundaries and try new things” or, “be bold and your path will reveal itself.”

But at UT Southwestern, the fact that these words are spoken to first-year students before they can even contemplate their residencies makes what may seem like mere platitudes, very real calls-to-action: Your time at UT Southwestern is a gift, the opportunities are boundless, and only birds in cages die thinking a ceiling is the sky.

At the 2nd annual “Thinking Big” event on Saturday, Feb. 16, a packed McDermott Plaza auditorium featured a round-robin of UT Southwestern’s health-sciences heavyweights – five UT Southwestern faculty members were given 12 minutes each to share some of their most profound thoughts, experiences, and ideas about their individual passions.

Thinking Big Speaker Presentations

Event founder Gaurab Chakrabarti, third-year student in the Medical Scientist Training Program, said this year’s line-up really showcased the breadth of life-saving, evidence-based medicine taking place at UT Southwestern.

“‘The intellectual and occasionally idiosyncratic pursuits of our diverse faculty members are interesting in their own right, but we decided to style this day after the wildly popular TED Talks, so as to ignite and spread of ideas and knowledge across disciplines,” he added.

Benjamin D. Levine, M.D., Professor of Internal Medicine and Cardiology, gave the headlining talk on “Science as Exploration: Perspectives of a Space Cardiologist,” wowing the audience with strong facts about sedentary lifestyles: three weeks of bed rest is harder on your heart than 30 years of aging, he said.

His unique background in space medicine includes serving as co-investigator on four Spacelab missions and as the principal investigator of a large cardiovascular experiment on the International Space Station.

James Amatruda, M.D., Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, presented “Fishing for a Cure: The Challenge of Childhood Cancer,” offering keen insights about the genetics of zebrafish, which have an internal anatomy not entirely unlike humans (same location of the spleen).

As a pediatric oncologist and basic scientist, Dr. Amatruda has devoted his career to understanding the genetic causes of childhood cancers. His laboratory focuses on germ cell tumor, Wilms’ tumor, and Ewing’s sarcoma, using a combination of human genomics and zebrafish genetic models. 

Deborah Clegg, Ph.D., R.D., Associate Professor of Internal Medicine and Clinical Nutrition, talked about challenging common assumptions in “From Bedside to Bench: Thinking Outside The Wheaties Box.” Dr. Clegg achieved acclaim as a pioneer in nutritional and metabolic research, after beginning her career in the U.S. Army where she trained future dietitians and formulated Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) provided to deployed soldiers.

Alex Eastman, M.D., M.P.H., Assistant Professor of Surgery, offered commentary on “Best Medicine, Worst Places.” Also serving as a lieutenant and the Deputy Medical Director for the Dallas Police Department, Dr. Eastman is highly trained at responding to critical incidents both inside and outside the traditional healthcare setting.

Dr. Eastman performed what he called the world’s first throat surgery by rifle-light when a fellow officer was shot in the neck at the scene of a night-time crime – getting to his wounded colleague within the “golden hour” when emergency care is so critical made the difference between life and death.

Helen Hobbs, M.D., Professor of Internal Medicine and Molecular Genetics, spoke about “Science, Serendipity and the Single Degree,” which traced her trajectory from physician to path-breaking research scientist. Her research in identifying the genes that influence cholesterol levels and exploring their function is laying the groundwork for the development of new cholesterol-lowering drugs.

She credits her former mentor, Donald Seldin, M.D., then UT Southwestern’s head of medicine, for recognizing the research scientist she would become and arranging for her to work as a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of two well-established investigators – Michael Brown, M.D., and Joseph Goldstein, M.D., who later won a Nobel Prize for their discoveries concerning the regulation of cholesterol metabolism.

The course of discovery has its roots in the past and “‘the future of medicine, today,’ is not just a slogan,” Dr. Eastman said. “You should treat it as a time to think and act on big thoughts.”

So next year, get a jumpstart on doing something big by attending 2014’s “Thinking Big.”

It’s never too early to set your alarm.