In regenerative medicine, it is important to not just
create technologies that are good for the patient; it is
important to create technologies that are transformational to the patient and will allow for the cost
difference to be worthwhile.
In developing these technologies, you have been
involved in biotech spin-off companies. How has
that been different than being in academia?
I do not become closely involved with any company. I decided early on that I would never do that.
I know many scientists who have developed a product and then spent a sizeable portion of their time
with their own company. My philosophy has been
that I should stick to what I know how to do best,
which is the research. Some of our technologies have
been licensed by the university to start-up companies, but I try not to be involved other than at an
What do you think are the greatest challenges
for early career surgeon-scientists in the current
The competing interests between clinical responsibilities and research endeavors continue to be a major
challenge for new academic surgeons. I am recruiting
faculty now, and maintaining and protecting that balance can be difficult. We try to be sure that people have
a longer runway, as it is now harder than ever to get
that first grant right out of the gate. It takes more of
an investment in terms of the number of years it will
take for the investigator to be self-funded. You need to
be in an environment that gives you everything you
need to succeed in your research career.
Do you think the surgical research community
can improve the situation for surgeon-scientists
as they start their careers? It is disheartening to
hear about large academic centers that will not
support NIH K applications for their junior faculty because they can’t protect their time.
There has to be a reckoning of this. If academic medical centers really want long-term success and to create
the next generation of physician scientists, they need
to understand how times have changed. It takes a concerted effort to make sure that people have protected
time. Institutions that are truly invested in the academic mission need to invest with their endowments
so that those funds support future surgeon scientists
until they are self-funded. There has to be a commitment to building endowment funds with the goal of
supporting promising young investigators.
In preparing for this interview, I watched your
TED talk.† How did you get involved in that expe-
I was invited to give a TED talk twice before I could
actually fit it into my schedule. It was a great experience
because it forced me to deliver the message so that the
general public could understand it. How do you take
a scientific topic and make it understandable to a lay
audience? The TED talk format is great at doing that.
Does your wife think she made the right choice in
advising you to take that extra research year dur-
ing your fellowship?
Absolutely, because I found my passion! ♦
†Atala A. Printing a human kidney [video file]. TED. March 2011.
Available at: www.ted.com/talks/anthony_atala_printing_a_human_
kidney?language=en. Accessed March 15, 2016.
PROFILES IN SURGICAL RESEARCH
One of my biggest motivations has been moving ideas from the
bench to the bedside.... How do you take that science you have
worked so hard on and make sure that you can actually take it
to the next step, and finally, to the patient to see that it works?