Transform: Science Sunday


Written By Contributing Guest Writer: Katie Nelson

The 2013 TRANSFORM symposium, hosted by the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation, kicked off at the Mayo Civic Center on Sunday, September 8. The Center for Innovation’s mission is “to transform the experience and delivery of healthcare and to make these discoveries and solutions available for all people”, which exemplifies the purpose of TRANSFORM. This conference brings hundreds of healthcare professionals from all over the world together, to have the difficult conversations necessary to improve healthcare.

“Science Sunday” served as the big kickoff to the conference; the purpose being to hear about new discoveries being made, from various researchers. If you ask me, it was a great way to get all of the attendees in the spirit – to get people thinking. Moderator John Hockenberry explained that the reason why this conference is so important is because, "it brings to light how driven professionals are to dig in and ask questions, in order to get somewhere."

We had the privilege of hearing from four different speakers, the first being Michael Ackerman, M.D., Ph.D.: a pediatric cardiology consultant at Mayo Clinic. Dr. Ackerman spoke about sudden deaths in young people, which surprisingly rival the number of deaths in elderly people. He explained that approximately one-third of all autopsies come back “stone-cold normal”, leaving everyone involved with zero answers. The culprit: Long QT syndrome, a heart rhythm disorder that often goes undiagnosed. However, the genetic cause for long QT syndrome can be determined for three out of every four cases, thanks to current genetic tests. When the disease is known, preventing sudden deaths is much simpler, but “there are definitely challenges – it’s all about recognizing the gaps,” Ackerman said.

From a different area on the spectrum of healthcare came Lynn Hartmann, M.D.: a consultant in Oncology at Mayo Clinic. Her talk was entitled, “What’s New & What’s True?” and immediately caught my attention. She read off a list of statements regarding breast cancer: all of which turned out to be false. Many women treat breast cancer as if it’s a “death sentence”, however Hartmann explained that this is not the case. She says researchers are studying lobular involution, which could potentially be a natural way of preventing the disease. Hartmann said, “We ere in always focusing on the abnormal in medicine – let’s look at what’s working instead.”

Next up: Michael Joyner, M.D., who is a consultant in Anesthesiology at Mayo Clinic. Dr. Joyner discussed athletes – a topic very different from the previous two speakers. He is very interested in running, and his research focused on why Kenyan people are such good athletes. The question was: are there inherited factors in Olympic runners? What’s genetically special about them, making them so good? However, it turns out that genetics do not play a significant role in talent – “culture beats genetics”. Kenyan people are small, they run a lot, they live at high altitudes and it is a good way for them to make money. It only makes sense that they would be fabulous athletes. Dr. Joyner’s talk stood out because it was apparent how passionate he is about this topic.

Katie Nelson

Katie Nelson is a contributing writer and student at the University of Minnesota Rochester.