In this season of our Theory and Practice podcast, we're interrogating topics at the interface of medicine, biology and machine learning. Our guest this week is Professor Sir Rory Collins, an epidemiologist whose pioneering trials provided the groundwork for evidenced-based medicine. There are few people I admire more than Professor Collins; he has truly changed the way in which cardiology is practiced around the world.
In addition to his early work running cardiovascular trials for statins and streptokinase, Professor Collins is perhaps best known for his more recent work: setting up and managing the UK Biobank, the largest, most detailed, and most accessible biomedical database in the world. Even after achieving so many incredible successes throughout his career, he still is hungry for new ways of doing things. This played out recently in the RECOVERY trial for Covid-19 which showed, among many other things, that dexamethasone had a mortality benefit in patients receiving respiratory support.
Professor Sir Rory Collins
I don't know that I've ever seen someone who, given the conviction that he knew the truth, was so willing to push for it, often in the face of adversity. Professor Collins is someone who thinks in an incredibly clearheaded way, and is able to see further than others. Anyone who tries to change the status quo inevitably comes up against resistance, but Professor Collins is especially notable for his fortitude and ability to power through. It's something he's done over and over again throughout his career.
Several points in this interview are meaningful for me. For almost sentimental reasons, I most like the story of his time in Washington, D.C., when he was learning statistics and beginning to think about the future of evidence-based medicine. It very much reminds me of a two year period in my own life when I lived in the UK, studying mathematics before going on to medical school. It's kind of like a reverse pairing. I can only hope that I might come close to approximating what Professor Collins has done in his life.