A Conversation with David Kolin
David Kolin is a second-year medical student at Weill Cornell Medicine (WCM). He recently collaborated with EIPM Director Olivier Elemento, Ph.D., on a research project, “Prediction of Venous Thromboembolism Based on Clinical and Genetic Factors,” which earned First Place in WCM’s recent Medical Student Research Day.
David is a Los Angeles native who earned an undergraduate degree in Chemistry with a Biochemistry focus at Pomona College, and a Master’s in Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine as a Rotary Foundation Global Grant Scholar.
In recognition of October 15th’s designation as World Thrombosis Day, we are happy to bring you this conversation with David and hope you enjoy learning more about his background and research interests.
As a medical student, I don’t imagine you have much time for research. But your poster “Prediction of Venous Thromboembolism Based on Clinical and Genetic Factors,” earned first place in WCM’s recent Medical Student Research Day (congratulations, by the way). How do you juggle all of your responsibilities?
That’s a good question. Some of my classmates dedicate their spare time to important projects like human rights campaigns. Whereas I’ve decided to dedicate my spare time to research, which I’m really passionate about.
Luckily, the first one and a half years of medical school are pass/fail, and there is, of course, some overlap between the research that I’m doing and my studies. Being comfortable with research is really important because in research you tend to delve into topics very deeply and learn about basic science, which is critical for holistically understanding a disease. This method of learning complements studying disease from lectures and slide shows in the classroom.
Do you have an area of interest that you’re particularly fascinated with at this stage of your education?
I earned my Master’s in Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine before coming to WCM, and that really formed the foundation of my interest in this area. The great thing about epidemiology is that it’s a budding field with a lot of big data, requiring the proper statistical tools. The field also gives me the ability to do research around a busy schedule. If I have some free time at 10 P.M., for example, and I want to run some analyses or build on some code I was developing earlier that day, I can just do it from my laptop at home. I don’t have to head into the lab in the middle of the night to run a five-hour experiment.
Did that flexibility and the opportunity to pursue your research interests draw you to WCM?
It was definitely among the reasons I wanted to study here. There are so many different research opportunities at WCM, and the school is among the very best in so many fields. WCM is a leader in fields like basic science, epidemiology, and genetics. Being able to synthesize information across disciplines was really important to me.
For example, for the research I am working on with Scott Kulm and Dr. Elemento, we are not only looking at information on clinical risk factors that can be assessed quickly from a patient’s history. We also are looking at the genetics of disease. We’re exploring how single nucleotide polymorphisms – single letter changes in the genetic code – can make a difference in whether you get veneous thromboembolism, for example, or whether you don’t. I’m really intrigued by that.
How did your interest in epidemiology lead you to the Englander Institute for Precision Medicine and to Dr. Elemento?
I reached out to the head of epidemiology at WCM because I wanted to do some work synthesizing epidemiology with polygenic risk scores. She knew Dr. Elemento was interested in these fields and put me in touch with him. That allowed for a very fruitful collaboration for this project, and hopefully we’ll continue to work together on other projects as well.
There is quite a bit of awareness of the EIPM and the work of Dr. Elemento among the medical students here. I feel very fortunate to have an opportunity to work with Dr. Elemento. He continues to serve as a very helpful guide for our work.
How does precision medicine fit into your future career plans?
I’d like to continue my research during residency. There are so many fascinating research questions that need addressing now with existing data sets, and there is a vast amount of incredible data being collected currently as well. For example, programs like All of Us, will generate enormous amounts of valuable information that will need rigorous analysis. Who knows where all of that data will lead us?
Precision medicine has amazing promise. For example, we’re able to use it now in our study to stratify our participants into different risk groups for venous thromboembolism to determine who’s at low risk versus who’s at high risk. We can do that with both clinical and genetic factors, and fortunately the costs of doing genetic tests are falling precipitously all the time. It’s definitely a very exciting time to be working in precision medicine.
Did you always want to be a doctor?
My interest in science and math started in high school, I loved the rigor of these fields, and I loved the idea of using these disciplines to make discoveries that could potentially help people in need. This was always very exciting to me. And these interests led me to medicine, where I hope I can make a real impact.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I like to play chess. My cousin just visited me and we spent some time relaxing and playing chess together. It’s nice because it’s a pretty universal game that almost everyone knows!
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