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The record breakers | News from the Department of Medicine

Broadband and the heart

Ashley, a self-proclaimed “tech geek”, was drawn to medicine as the child of a doctor and a midwife. At 16, he became fascinated with genetics while reading Richard Dawkins’ book The selfish gene.

After completing medical school at the University of Glasgow and a medical residency and doctorate in molecular physiology at the University of Oxford, Ashley came to Stanford in 2002 for a four-year fellowship in cardiovascular medicine.

“While Stanford was a computer mecca, back then, not much was done with high-speed data. I had no idea that coming here would give me such an opportunity to combine my computer personality and my fascination for the heart,” he admits.

The timing couldn’t have been better for the doctor with an interest in computer science and genetics.

“Before the advent of this genome sequencing technology, genetic testing was not particularly relevant for cancer, cardiovascular disease and other diseases responsible for the greatest number of deaths in our society. But when you sequence a genome, you get information about every disease that exists. The accessibility of this information has had a huge impact on the diagnosis and treatment of the most common diseases in our society, and these are the diseases that the Department of Medicine deals with,” he explains.

Team work

Among many colleagues, Ashley cites two from the Department of Medicine who have been particularly important to her work in genomics. Matthew Wheeler, MD, an assistant professor of cardiovascular medicine, is Ashley’s “right hand” at the Center for Undiagnosed Diseases. Wheeler is another principal investigator and serves as the center’s operational chief.

Jason Hom, MD, clinical associate professor of internal medicine, also plays a major role at the center. “Of course, our team is diverse and we have experts in genomics, bioinformatics, genetic counseling, etc. We also have a doctor who sees most of the adult patients in the clinic, and Jason is that primary doctor,” says Ashley.