August 31, 2021

New executive director for Mayo’s Center for Individualized Medicine shares vision of further advancing genomic medicine into patient care

By Susan Murphy

Konstantinos Lazaridis, M.D., the Carlson and Nelson Endowed Executive Director for Mayo Clinic's Center for Individualized Medicine

Konstantinos Lazaridis, M.D., known for his significant contributions in genomic research and medicine in a quest to predict and better diagnose disease, as well as devise individualized treatments, has been named the Carlson and Nelson Endowed Executive Director for Mayo Clinic's Center for Individualized Medicine. The center is widely recognized as one of the most influential leaders driving precision medicine.

"What an honor and privilege to lead this exceptional multidisciplinary team and to build on the center's extraordinary legacy of advancing genomics in an effort to prevent, treat and even cure devastating illnesses," Dr. Lazaridis says. "We will continue to harness the brightest minds in medicine, reach higher in our innovations and delve deeper in our understanding of human health and disease to improve the lives of our patients."

Among his strategic visions for the center are further integrating genomic medicine into clinical practice — particularly in rare disease and cancer — and pushing the bounds of "omics" discoveries. Dr. Lazaridis says this quest will be powered by sophisticated research, artificial intelligence, educators, and bioethics experts to help navigate critical issues. 

"We're in a unique position to fuel new discoveries to improve care for our patients, particularly in the space of rare diseases, which affect nearly 30 million Americans," he says. "At the same time, we'll continue to illuminate the biochemical markers that could help us predict disease development through understanding multi-omics." 

The term “omics,” at either the level of an organism or a cell, includes genomics, mapping genomes; proteomics, the study of proteins; metabolomics, the study of metabolic processes to identify the underlying causes of disease; epigenomics, the study of epigenetic changes on DNA; transcriptomics, the study of RNA molecules, and microbiome, the study of bacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses that live inside the body.

"Multi-omics is a combination of two or more omics approaches to create a multidimensional or layered perspective," Dr. Lazaridis explains.

Dr. Lazaridis likens the study of genomics and omics to the field of architecture: a landscape of design and organization with every beam, rod and column strategically placed to create a structure — similar to the structure of genes, proteins, cells and organs that create the human structure, and disease.

"I've always been fascinated by architecture as a principle. It helps me to think through how to understand and intervene in disease," he explains. "For example, when the structure of a gene is changed, it can produce illness that was not there before.”

“Yet, disease processes are complex. There are many layers of elements that interact. You have to understand every layer, just like you have to know every element of a cell woven so intricately together," he continues. "This is how we'll understand why cancer develops in an individual and how to treat it, or what led to a patient's rare disease and how to customize a therapeutic."

Dr. Lazaridis also plans to lead his team in putting a razor-sharp focus on the exposome — the measure of all the exposures of a person in their lifetime and how those exposures relate to health.

"We believe that a profound understanding of environmental contributors to disease and health, when combined with genomics, could lead to vast improvements in knowledge of the causes and risk factors for many diseases."

He says the center is advancing the idea of sequencing the genome of every Mayo Clinic patient. Dr. Lazaridis envisions that one day all patients will be offered an omics testing kit, even before they come to the practice, for collecting their saliva, urine, stool or hair, to get a detailed health analysis. 

"With all this scientific progress in omics, we must not lose our focus on the patient," he says. “We have to keep a pulse on their concerns and expectations. We need to keep educating and learning from our patients,” he explains. “Of equal importance, we must pay attention to the learning of our students and practitioners. Delivery of omics-based care requires an educated workforce of health professionals,” Dr. Lazaridis says.

Driven by his passion to help others, Dr. Lazaridis's depth of genomics expertise comes from decades of sifting through sequences of human genomes to uncover genetic variants and mutations associated with rare liver diseases. 

Dr. Lazaridis joined the staff at Mayo Clinic in 2000. He was a Mayo Foundation Scholar in Genomics in the National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, from 2000 to 2003 when the Human Genome Project was still underway. 

Over the past two decades, Dr. Lazaridis has established and is directing two NIH-funded, nationwide patient-oriented studies to examine the genetic and environmental underpinnings of primary sclerosing cholangitis and primary biliary cholangitis ― both rare liver diseases.

Most recently, working as the Center for Individualized Medicine's associate director, he was the principal architect in establishing the Individualized Medicine Clinic in 2012, which has served more than 7,500 patients, and the Program for Rare and Undiagnosed Diseases in 2019, which aims to integrate genomics in subspecialty practice using targeted gene panels, thus better serving our patients with rare diseases. At present, 25 Program for Rare and Undiagnosed Diseases genomics clinics are active across Mayo Clinic, with expansion underway.

Dr. Lazaridis says he'll continue to encourage a collaborative environment of intellectual curiosity, exceptional expertise, innovative drive and risk-taking ― all key ingredients for medical breakthroughs. 

"Our collaborative efforts will ultimately result in live-saving innovations for our patients," Dr. Lazaridis says. "That is our singular focus."

Dr. Lazaridis succeeds Richard Weinshilboum, M.D., who has provided outstanding leadership as the interim director of the Center for Individualized Medicine following the departure of Keith Stewart, M.B., Ch.B., in 2020. Dr. Weinshilboum played a critical role in advancing the center's 10-year strategic plan in alignment with Mayo Clinic's 2030 strategy, and he was pivotal in coordinating the center's COVID-19 research and laboratory efforts. ]

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Tags: cancer genomics, Dr. Konstantinos Lazaridis, genomics, individualized medicine, multi-omics, Precision Medicine, rare disease

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