What do you get when you cross a scientist, a rock star, and a rollerblading enthusiast? Nope, it’s not the protagonist from an 80s rom-com. The answer is this week's guest Dr. Pardis Sabeti. Smithsonian Magazine called her the “Rollerblading, Rock Star Scientist of Harvard.”

Dr. Sabeti is a world renowned physician and geneticist, famous for her work applying computational models to the study of evolution and public health. As if that weren't enough to demonstrate a predisposition to success, she's also the lead singer in a rock band called Thousand Days, and frequently rollerblades to and from her lab at Harvard. Early in her career, Dr. Sabeti became convinced that if she could identify recent changes in the human genome, it would lead to breakthrough methods for fighting infectious diseases. To accomplish this, Dr. Sabeti is engaged in a continuous effort to determine if a specific gene variation in a given neighborhood of genes recently conferred a genetic advantage (such as a resistance to disease) on particular population. One of her collaborators at MIT described her as Gretzky-esque in her approach to evolutionary genetics, preferring to skate to where the puck (or in this case, advantageous gene variation) is going to be, rather than where it currently is.

More recently, Dr. Sabeti has directed her investigative mind toward the Lassa virus, a deadly hemorrhagic fever that first emerged in the Nigerian town of Lassa in the late 1960s.  Just how dangerous is the Lassa virus? The US Center for Disease Control identifies the Lassa virus as Biosafety level 4 (the highest possible risk).

Currently, Dr. Sabeti and her team are putting themselves directly in the disease's path by studying and treating victims of the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa. This deadly strain of the virus has already caused over 700 deaths, Peace Corp to pull all its volunteers, and pan-African airlines to halt travel to that western region. Though the risk of the infection spreading among travelers is low, since the disease is transmitted through contact with bodily fluids, health care professionals like Dr. Sabeti and her team are among those at greatest risk for infection. 

Dr. Sabeti is not a figment of 80s pop culture imagination-she’s the real deal. For more on Dr. Sabeti's astounding work, please see: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/pardis-sabeti-the-rollerblading-rock-star-scientist-of-harvard-135532753/?no-ist

Read more of her academic publications here: http://sabetilab.org/people/pardis-sabeti

-Lee Stephenson, Production Associate

AuthorChris Duffy