Euan Ashley, MD, PhD, professor of medicine and genetics at Stanford University and founding director of the Stanford Center for Inherited Cardiovascular Disease, Stanford University
Ashley joined Stanford’s faculty in 2006 and led a team that carried out the first clinical interpretation of the human genome. By applying genomics to medicine, Ashley is helping patients and families with genetic risk of heart disease manage their condition and health. He works with colleagues to diagnose and treat entire families who are at risk for life-threatening heart abnormalities using genetic sequencing. This approach helps identify and treat rare and previously undiagnosed diseases. He was also the first co-chair of the steering committee of the National Institutes of Health’s Undiagnosed Diseases Network.
MHE: Why did you choose your profession?
Ashley: Growing up in the west of Scotland, a region with one of the highest rates of heart disease in the world, I saw my father—a general practitioner—deliver amazing, personalized care to the community. I could think of no higher calling than to try to emulate that.
MHE: What has been your biggest learning experience?
Ashley: Some of our most important lessons come from outside our industry. In most sectors, you aim to proactively identify problems and address them before they occur. In medicine, we rarely get ahead of disease; instead, we treat it when it occurs.
MHE: What change would you like to see in healthcare in the next 10 years?
Ashley: We have to become much more proactive. We need to better understand people’s risks and implement programs that help mitigate these risks before disease occurs. At Stanford Health Care, we call that precision health—using technology to predict, prevent, and cure disease precisely.
MHE: If you could sit down to dinner with anyone involved in healthcare, who would it be?
Ashley: I would love to sit down and chat with Peter Abildgaard. In 1775 Denmark, he figured out that an electric shock can stop and restart the heart. He tried it on a chicken and basically invented the defibrillator.