Dr. Emmanouil Tampakakis is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and an attending physician at Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he also holds a cardiology fellowship. He received his undergraduate degree and MD from the University of Crete and completed an internal medicine residency at Boston University Medical Center.
Before joining Johns Hopkins in 2012, he was a research fellow in Dr. J. Vita’s laboratory of Vascular Biology at Boston University School of Medicine. He is also a recipient of the American College of Cardiology Presidential Career Development Award, the American Heart Association Basic Cardiovascular Sciences Outstanding Early Career Investigator Award, the American Heart Association Career Development Award, and the NIH Mentored Clinician Scientist Career Development Award. The distinguished doctor spoke with us about his life and career.
THE NATIONAL HERALD: Everything started with your intellectual curiosity.
DR. EMMANOUIL TAMPAKAKIS:
I always considered myself curious, and I was asking a lot of questions. Since high school, I have always been fascinated by human physiology. So, when I began my biology studies, it was only a matter of time before I pursued more research projects and ideas. This is what still drives me to continue to answer essential questions as a physician-scientist.
THE NATIONAL HERALD: Tell us about your background.
ET: I was born and raised on the island of Crete in Greece. I did my undergraduate studies in Biology there, and then I also did get my medical degree. After that, I worked as a community physician for about one year and then moved to Boston to pursue a career as a physician-scientist. I first joined the lab of Dr. Eleftherios Mylonakis at Harvard Medical School, where I stayed for one year. Then, I started my internal medicine residency at Boston University, which was followed by a fellowship in cardiology at Johns Hopkins University, where I am currently an Assistant Professor of Medicine.
THE NATIONAL HERALD: You received an honorary distinction from the American Heart Association and you are the winner of this year's BCVS Outstanding Early Career Investigator Award.
ET: Yes, I received this award two months ago at the virtual AHA Basic cardiovascular sciences conference. It was a great honor for me as this is a competitive award and a meaningful recognition by the cardiology research community.
THE NATIONAL HERALD: Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death worldwide. How can we better understand heart disease?
ET: The heart is not a naturally regenerative organ, and for years scientists have been trying to discover ways to generate more heart muscle and regenerate the heart. Part of our research has to do with the use of stem-cell-derived heart tissue to regenerate the heart or to find strategies to increase the proliferation of muscle cells from within the heart.
THE NATIONAL HERALD: What is your expertise?
ET: I am a general cardiologist. I attend in the inpatient cardiology wards and see patients with all sorts of cardiac disease, emphasizing patients with inherited heart disease and cardiac amyloidosis.
THE NATIONAL HERALD: What does your research at the Chulan Kwon’s Laboratory of Heart Development and Stem Cell Biology focus on?
ET: It focuses on understanding the biology and regenerative potential of cardiac progenitor cells, using human induced pluripotent stem cells for modeling cardiomyopathies and deciphering the mechanisms of cardiac maturation.
I now have my research laboratory. Our research also focuses on studying the role of heart innervation and its association with cardiac disease. In addition, we are using stem cell-derived heart cells to study disease mechanisms and heart regeneration. Finally, we investigate how specific factors regulate the heart development.
THE NATIONAL HERALD: Your research is innovative: what is its aim?
ET: Our research is innovative as we aim to investigate very novel heart disease pathways and develop new tools to study heart development and regenerate the heart.
THE NATIONAL HERALD: Tell us about Internal Medicine?
ET: That is the specialty of a physician who provides long-term, comprehensive care in the office and the hospital, managing both common and complex illness of adolescents, adults and the elderly. Internists are trained in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, infections and disease.
THE NATIONAL HERALD: You have a substantial funding history, a recently renovated laboratory, a unique research environment. What contributed to all that?
ET: Our research is currently funded from the National Institute of Health, the American Heart Associations, private donations, and the Johns Hopkins University. I believe the novelty of our work and its significance have contributed to our success with funding thus far and points to a promising future.
THE NATIONAL HERALD: Tell us about the effects of the Coronavirus on your work.
ET: Due to the Coronavirus, we were forced to close down the lab for at least three months. We are now back slowly doing some work and try to stay as efficient as possible. We hope things will continue to improve in Maryland even though later in the Fall and during Winter, we will all be reasonably concerned about the spread of the disease due to the presence of flu and the prevalence of indoor activities.
THE NATIONAL HERALD: The stockpiling of PPE and hospital equipment should be improved everywhere in the world. No one really got it right.
ET: I agree absolutely, but I would say that at Hopkins, they definitely tried hard, and with the help of volunteers and strong leadership, we had enough PPE. I personally never felt unsafe. Even during the early, more stressful days, I think that we did pretty well.
THE NATIONAL HERALD: How much domestic manufacturing capacity do we need for essential medicines and medical equipment?
ET: The truth is that all drugs are currently produced overseas. I do think we have a strong manufacturing capacity in the U.S., but we certainly need to redirect some of that to make necessary PPE and treatments for Coronavirus patients.
THE NATIONAL HERALD: What have you retained from everything you have learned from your family?
ET: I think the main things I learned from my family are to be humble, to enjoy every moment in life, always to help others, and to pursue my dreams. My parents always valued education and were able to foster and support my intellectual curiosity in every possible way. This is what I am trying to do with my four-year son, as well. A big part of my accomplishments thus far is because of the support of my family in the United States, and primarily my wife, who is also a doctor.