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Stanford University School of Medicine

Stars of Stanford Medicine: Reforming medical research

Stelios Serghiou, MBChB, is working to improve medical research -- and he plays the violin. He shares his story in this Stars of Stanford Medicine feature.

A native of Cyprus, graduate student Stelios Serghiou, MBChB, arrived in California in 2016 by way of Scotland, where he earned his medical degree. I caught up with him to learn more about his work and background.

Why did you choose Stanford?

Primarily, I wanted to work with John Ioannidis, MD, DSc. He has probably been the most instrumental figure for improving biomedical research quality in the world. He inspired me to follow my current path.

Also, I chose to come to Silicon Valley because I think that forging closer ties between academic medicine, information technology and startup culture is extremely important.

How did you get into science and medicine?

I really like the 'why' behind everything. I had always thought of myself as a mathematician-to-be. But my parents really wanted me to give medicine a chance.

I worked at an institute for people with learning disabilities and it really changed my perspective. From day one there, I received so much love and witnessed such sincerity and honesty. It also motivated me to pursue a career where I could help those in need.

The interesting thing is I 'left' mathematics and went into medicine. I then discovered Dr. Ioannidis and came here. I had to start learning more about statistics and machine learning and I thought 'Oh, there's math!'  I'm rediscovering math again and it feels great to combine my two academic loves.

What are you working on today?

I am very interested in using information technology to improve how biomedical research is conducted and communicated. We are currently studying what happens to articles made available before peer review as preprints on bioRxiv. This is new territory for medicine. Preprints make medical studies available almost instantaneously and can facilitate discussion and collaboration.

What are the most challenging parts of your field?

We know a lot about how to improve medical research, but have struggled to enact change. Most biomedical researchers have little incentive to change. Similarly, journals have little incentive to update and I don't even think journals, in their current form, are necessary.

How do you unwind?

I wish I had more time to unwind... I really enjoy playing the violin -- I played in the national youth orchestra in Cyprus -- and going to watch the orchestra. We are lucky here because we have San Francisco Orchestra, which is amazing. I also like trying out new restaurants and foods and I've also recently picked up tennis again.

What is your favorite food?

Cyprus food is the best -- you've got to try kleftiko.  McDonalds, though, is a guilty pleasure.

What do your colleagues not know about you?

They probably don't know that I like salsa dancing.

What is the best trip you've ever taken and why?

Probably my trip to Moldova with an organization to work with young children with disabilities in an orphanage. It reinforced my belief in the need for universal health care and public health policy. One of the children drew my picture as an angel, I will never forget that.

Are you reading anything?

Other than medical textbooks and journals? I'm reading this book called LogicComix: An Epic Search for Truth. It's a cartoon, but it goes through the history of logic through the biography of Bertrand Russell.

Do you have a role model?

It's a combination of a few people. Professor Ioannidis is extremely inspirational and has the courage to go against what most people think. He is also very humble. I also like Nathan Myhrvold, PhD. He thinks of everything in a scientific and out-of-the-box way. I feel really inspired by people who have the vision and courage to go against the establishment, and the humility to persevere.

Stars of Stanford Medicine introduces readers to standout scholars in the School of Medicine.

Photo by Alyssa Tamboura

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