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Stars of Stanford Medicine: “I want to leave an impact on medical care”

Physician-scientist Justin Annes specializes in a rare type of tumor disorders. He shares his story, and interests, in this Stars of Stanford Medicine Q&A.

Not long ago, I caught up with Justin Annes, MD, PhD, outside the Center for Clinical Sciences Research. A native New Yorker (raised 15 minutes from Yankee Stadium), Annes and his family (wife, Neali Armstrong, PhD, a Stanford biochemist; daughter Paisley and sons Beckett and Jasper) arrived in California about five years ago.

What is your position?

I'm an assistant professor of medicine and founding director of the Stanford Endocrine Genetics Clinic, which focuses on the diagnosis and management of rare hereditary neuroendocrine tumor disorders.

Why did you go into science?

By accident. I come from a family with two physicians, but as an undergraduate at Haverford College [in Pennsylvania], I became totally addicted to the rush of discovery involved in research. I loved coming into the lab, thinking up experimental ideas and getting to test them.

Now, it's terrific I have the opportunity to do both. The reward cycles of research and clinical medicine are very different. As a doctor, I love the short-term immediacy of rewarding interactions with patients and their families, while the reward arc of science tends to be much longer but deeply gratifying.

What are you working on today?

Our big push is to develop a novel therapy for diabetes that specifically acts on beta cells (a pancreatic cell that produces insulin). We're working to develop molecules that selectively promote the regeneration of pancreatic beta cells.

Why did you decide to come to Stanford?

Coming to Stanford was an important strategic decision for me. It's such a compelling research and intellectual environment. Here I've been able to develop a critical collaboration with the innovative ChEM-H program run by Chaitan Khosla, PhD, and bring the power of synthetic chemistry into my research program with the help of Mark Smith, PhD. It's really an unexpected but ideal trajectory for me that I hope will have lasting influence on the field.

And, of course, the lifestyle and the weather is terrific.

What is your ultimate career goal?

I want to leave an impact on medical care. Every advance is transient, but I want to expand our arsenal of therapeutic strategies. For me, the most compelling reason to do science is to improve human health.

How do you unwind?

I love spending time with family — I coach some of my kids' sports teams... Soccer has become our family activity. Being here at Stanford offers so many terrific opportunities to see elite athletes perform.

And I read The New York Times, which provides a chance to think outside my world — someday I hope to return to literature.

What do you enjoy reading?

I'm a science fiction junkie — I go through them in a really short period of time. I love Philip K. Dick; his writing is so simple and imaginative.

What is your favorite food?

My favorite cuisine is Indian, almost anything that's really, really spicy.

What are you listening to?

I listen to a lot of NPR. But at home, we've been listening to "Hamilton" around the clock. My kids know all the words by heart. I also like live music shows, alternative rock — my favorite band remains Fugazi.

And, what is one thing your colleagues don't know about you?

I was an All-American tennis player at Haverford.

Stars of Stanford Medicine features standout scholars in the School of Medicine.

Previously: Stars of Stanford Medicine: "Are people getting the right care?", Stars of Stanford Medicine: Working to end global health disparities and Stars of Stanford Medicine: Poetry lover and aspiring physician-scientist
Photo of Justin Annes (middle) and  graduate students Tim Horton and Hannah Moeller by Alyssa Tamboura

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