In early February, internationally recognized cardiologist Dr. Thomas Wang became UT Southwestern’s seventh Chair of Internal Medicine. He succeeds Dr. David Johnson, who served in that role for nine years and is staying on as Professor of Internal Medicine.
Dr. Wang comes from Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where he served the past seven years as Director of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine. His groundbreaking clinical and translational research focuses on preclinical cardiovascular disease, obesity, and metabolism. After graduating from Harvard College and then Harvard Medical School, Dr. Wang joined the cardiology faculty at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, working there from 2003 to 2013.
Dr. Wang has published in numerous medical journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine, JAMA, and Circulation, and has received more than $44 million in grant funding for his research. He is a co-inventor on five awarded or pending patents. A few weeks into his new role, Dr. Wang answered some questions for Center Times about what drew him to UT Southwestern and his goals.
What attracted you to UT Southwestern?
The institution has an incredible legacy of making biomedical discoveries, training academic leaders, and providing care to important segments of the population. So, the history of the institution and the Department of Internal Medicine really attracted me. Beyond that, UT Southwestern is in the midst of an exciting period of growth as an academic medical center, and the Department has an important opportunity to play a key role in that.
What is at the forefront of your mind with this new role?
The late Dr. Donald W. Seldin, UT Southwestern’s longest-serving Chair of Internal Medicine, was a huge figure in the field of medicine. It is a tremendous honor and a large responsibility to ensure that the Department continues to reflect his vision and his commitment to excellence.
What are your goals as Chair?
My broad goals are to have a Department that extends its historical legacy by playing a role in biomedical advances, training future leaders, and delivering care across a large continuum. There are new opportunities across the Medical Center created by the expansion of William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital and the overall growth of the clinical enterprise, and the Department should be well positioned to take advantage of these opportunities. Scientifically, for instance, there are opportunities stemming from the availability of new tools to learn from our patients and to conduct clinical research, as well as to translate discoveries from the basic science laboratories.
Why move to an executive leadership role in internal medicine?
As a cardiologist, my original training was in internal medicine. Like many of my colleagues in cardiology, I have a broad interest in medicine. Second, my research, although it has a cardiovascular focus, does cross over into many noncardiovascular areas. For instance, I am interested in metabolism and how abnormal metabolism promotes cardiovascular disease. Departments of medicine have always had a broad role in training leaders in medicine and contributing to biomedical discoveries, and that is particularly true nowadays with all of the advances in clinical care and basic and clinical research.
Will you continue doing research and seeing patients?
Yes. Despite my administrative roles, I’ve tried to continue doing the things that I’ve done throughout my career. It also gives me greater appreciation for some of the opportunities and challenges faced by the faculty in the Department.
In your view, what are the biggest issues in cardiology today?
Over the past 50 years, there’s been a tremendous decrease in death rates from cardiovascular disease. But heart disease remains the leading cause of death in this country, and the gains that have been experienced in the last 50 years have been unequally distributed by geography, racial/ethnic group, socioeconomic status, and other parameters. So one of the biggest challenges in the field – which is a public health challenge as well as a scientific challenge – is understanding these disparities and coming up with ways to address them.
What are your research areas of focus?
One of our major areas of interest is the interaction between metabolism and cardiovascular disease. A lot of the work we are doing in that area focuses on hormones that the heart makes called natriuretic peptides. We are interested in how these hormones operate in healthy people as well as in people with diseases. In another area of research, we study how cardiovascular risk can be assessed in people who don’t have disease yet, using a variety of tools such as biomarkers and genetics.
Outside of work, what are your interests?
Most of that time involves activities with the family and keeping up with the kids.