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March 5, 2014

Andrea Amalfitano: Looking at the big picture

March 5, 2014

Andrea Amalfitano is an Osteopathic Heritage Foundation endowed professor of pediatrics, microbiology and molecular genetics in the College of Osteopathic Medicine.

There are a lot of things I see that haven’t even been written in the books yet. That’s why I get called in to look at the big picture.

Recently, for example, I was at Sparrow Hospital in their newborn intensive care services. There was a child there facing unidentified health complications, and a number of specialists got involved. There was a cardiology specialist, a kidney specialist, an infectious disease specialist….so I sort of come in and put it all together.

You can’t really have a number of health complications—this, that and the other thing—all because they are random and unrelated. There’s almost assuredly a point of connection, but right now the child could have 10 or 15 different conditions. The next step is to scan the child’s genome for abnormalities.

I talked to the newborn’s parents and explained to them how the genome is like a set of encyclopedias. The ninth page in chapter 18 of volume 21 might have the set of instructions on how to make a toe, for example. I’m directing the lab to read through a few pages that could be the source of the problem.

That’s the nature of medicine. A lot of people think it’s pretty cut and dry, but there’s an art in diagnosing. I will wait for the lab results to draw conclusions, but if the condition is something I haven’t seen it would have to be really darn rare.

I answered the parents’ questions to the best of my ability before I headed back to campus. I’m always grateful for the time I have interacting with patients or involved parties. It reminds me how lucky I am to be doing what I do.


Photo by Kurt Stepnitz

Learn more about Amalfitano by watching his Spartan Saga .