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Interview with Professor Dobromir Dobrev an eminent scientist

Professor Dobrev is a leading expert in cellular electrophysiology and calcium homeostasis of cardiomyocytes. His research highly contributed to the advance in understanding of molecular mechanisms underlying development, progression and maintenance of cardiac arrhythmias particularly atrial fibrillation, the most common arrhythmia. For more information go to:

What were the key steps in your scientific career?

To me the most important factor in my career development was the collaboration with two important scientists, who influenced my scientific way deeply and positively. Ursula Ravens, the former director of the Department of Pharmacology in Dresden (Germany), where I worked for more than 15 years, stimulated my enthusiasm for basic research in pharmacology and cellular electrophysiology. Working with her I realized that working hard and precisely is key for a successful scientific career. The second important person who had and has a deep impact on my career is Stanley Nattel, with whom I am collaborating extensively for more than 10 years. He is an impressive individual who is running likely the most successful translational research program in the field of atrial fibrillation, which spans the rang from the molecule to the patient. He is a master in switching between the scales of translation allowing him to set his basic research in a broad clinical context.

In general, I think that the specific way of a successful scientific career is unpredictable because curiosity and excitement can lead to different achievements. To be exposed to appropriate role models as aerly as possible is the most important factor in a successful scientific career and this is even more important than obtaining certain degrees or reaching specific milestones.


Although you are a trained MD, you decided very early in your career to work full-time as a basic scientist. What were the most important reasons for this decision?

After I finished medical school, I started to work in a scientific department because I felt that this is the only place to conduct real science. I felt that my interest in science was stronger than my wish to take care of patients. Later I realized that although I do not treat patients directly, basic science enables me to reach even more patients than I would have been able to treat as a clinician because important discoveries in basic research may have a deep and long lasting impact on patient treatment and their dissemination may reach many more people and practicing clinicians. Ideally, they may lead to new treatment options or diagnostic tools, but basic research may also influence clinical guidelines. Thus, my current work allows me to contribute at least a small piece to patient treatment giving something back to the society as well.


Do you think that in today’s very competitive environment it is possible to become an excellent clinician and basic scientist at the same time? Should young MDs decide early in their career which way they should go?

Since I never worked as a clinician, I cannot report a personal experience. I think that it is very difficult to do both clinical work and research at the very same high level. In fact, I know only a few exceptional people who are excellent in both fields. Therefore, I think that most MDs should decide at an early stage of their career, i.e. during the first 5-7 years, which way they prefer to approach. It is almost impossible to change the direction after being for more than 10 years in one of these areas. My feeling is that an early decision would facilitate the achievement of important milestones needed for a successful career in basic science or clinical science and practice.


What are the main challenges in academic research and what are your recommendations for young scientists to handle them?

In contrast to clinicians, researchers compete for resources not only with colleagues in the local hospital or university but also with other researchers all over the world. Although this enriches our live because we interact with many interesting people, this international competition makes our live also very hard. Nowadays information flow is so rapid that we have to react very quickly on new developments. This is sometimes conflicts with the thoughtful nature of basic research and we have to make sure that it does not impair the quality of our work. Again, role models can help young researchers to master those conflicts and it is therefore essential to select the laboratories, supervisors and mentors carefully at early career stages. These first experiences have a strong influence our future professional live. Nevertheless besides hard working enthusiasm and curiosity are the key drivers of a scientific career.


What motivates you?

Curiosity is my big motivation. In science, every answer to a specific question raises a bunch of new questions. Curiosity does not allow me to stop thinking about these questions after leaving the lab or during weekends and holidays and I suspect that this is a big difference to routine clinical work and the majority of jobs.

Also, appreciation by colleagues and peers, co-workers and the society is another strong motivation. If you feel that people respect your and that your research program has an impact on society, this is an incredible source of energy and stimulation to work even harder.


How important are visibility at scientific conferences, on the internet or in social media for a successful scientific career?

I think dissemination of scientific results is more important than ever before. I feel it is our obligation to make our results and discoveries available to the society who finances our research activities. This increases the acceptance of scientific research in the general community and enhances the willingness to provide financial support for scientific work. Meanwhile many grant providers such as the EU or NIH require open publication of results and activities not only in scientific journals but also in social media, internet and newspapers.


During the last 10 years what were the major discoveries in basic science, which had or will have impact on treatment of patients with atrial fibrillation?

I think that a great deal has been achieved in resolving cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying arrhythmias, which may lead to the identification of many interesting drug targets. The pathomechanisms of AF turned out to be much more diverse so that the “one hit fits all” cannot be applied to a majority of the population. The main challenge for the future will be to evaluate the diversity of mechanisms with respect to their relevance for arrhythmia maintenance, to identify the hierarchy of the putative mechanims and to discover important “check points” the targeting of which is likely to increase our success of drug treatment of atrial fibrillation. Finally, epidemiological studies and improved possibilities of long-term monitoring revealed that atrial fibrillation is much more common than previously recognized which will have major impact on the whole health system.


What is the most important advice you would give to a young researchers at the beginning of his/her career?

Keep your enthusiasm and curiosity, work hard and enjoy what you are doing.


By the Scientists of Tomorrow