MTE: Computational Biology of Drug Design with Dr. Altman
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On this episode of “Meet the Experts” we have the honor of interviewing Russ B. Altman, MD, PhD.  Dr. Altman is a Stanford professor of Bioengineering, of Genetics, of Medicine (General Medical Discipline), of Biomedical Data Science and, by Courtesy, of Computer Science.  His lab studies how human genetic variation impacts drug response (

Questions & Time Stamps

1:30 – Can you briefly describe the process of drug design?

3:50 – How important is animal testing in drug design?

7:15 – What does computational drug design bring to the concept of personalized medicine?

8:33 – Are there preferred coding languages that drug designers use?

10:10 – What is the required proficiency with coding languages for drug designers? Write code from scratch or just use code to command functions?

11:25 – Most physicians don’t have a computational background. Is there a push to make drug design software more user-friendly for physicians?

12:47 – Can you describe your academic journey starting from high school?

18:25 – Even the most successful drugs don’t work on everyone. How does genetic variation affect the process of drug design?

21:15 – What are some notable drugs that have been successful?

25:40 – Insurance companies that charge different people different amounts based on what health problems the patient might have. A person’s genetic information can be used to discriminate against them. How does a clinician or clinic balance the danger of sharing genetic information with insurance companies with the importance of sharing valuable health information?

28:37 – How much do changes in protein conformation affect the process of drug design?

30:20 – Is there any fun trash-talking that you want to do to competitors or colleagues in the field?

33:27 – Are there certain categories of proteins that are harder to create drugs for, and why?

34:38 – Drugs are foreign chemicals that can be harmful to normal cells. How does a drug design balance the ease with which drugs enter a cell and the ease with which the cell can remove them?

36:39 – How does a drug designer send a drug specifically to a cell type or an organ in the body?

38:03 – Kidney damage seems to be a common problem with drugs. Why is that and why hasn’t this been solved?

39:50 – Students are easily inspired by someone like you, but they are also intimidated by someone like you; scared away (from science). As someone who knows genetics, biology, biochemistry, and computers, how long did it take you to become comfortable in these areas?

42:55 – Listener Question: What’s the workload like when you are in the MD-PhD program?

44:17 – For our student audience, was there a time in your training when you felt inadequate, or wanted to give up?

46:32 – Listener Question: Do you think pharmacogenomics will be brought to the masses soon? Is pharmacogenomics offered as a major in college?

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