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Dr Ahnen was born in the extreme western tip of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. However, he did not stay there long. As father was in the US Air Force, he spent his youth moving from place to place. This included a year and a half stay on Guam, where he learned to play baseball.
Dr Ahnen was a senior at Florida State University, with plans to study mathematics at graduate school. Here he received his military draft lottery number (16). At that time all graduate student deferments had been eliminated, except for Law and Medicine. Thus he changed his major and applied to Medical School, as soon as he was eligible. He was accepted to Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, Michigan.
After his first year of medical school, Dr Ahnen married Carol Petar, his high-school sweetheart.
Dr Ahnen did not know very much about medicine, and so explored many different interests, including pediatrics and surgery, before settling on internal medicine and then gastroenterology. He completed his Medical Residency and a Chief Residency at Hutzel Hospital in Detroit, under the direction of Dr A. Martin Lerner. He then moved to Denver for a GI Fellowship at the University of Colorado, under Dr Fred Kern.
Dr Ahnen did a year of clinical training and two years of research with Dr William Brown, in Denver. His eldest daughter, Gina, was born about a one and a half months after arriving here. Under Dr Brown, he learned about immunoelectron microscopy and became interested in why cell surface proteins were aberrantly expressed on the surface of colon cancer cells.
After completing his GI Fellowship, Dr Ahnen did an additional two years of research with Dr Gary Gray at Stanford University, Palo Alto. Here he studied the mechanisms of microvillar membrane protein synthesis and transport. Dr Ahnenís middle daughter, Megan, was born a few months after he arrived in Palo Alto.
His two research experiences, while very different, provided overlapping skills for starting an independent research effort related to colon cancer prevention.
Dr Ahnen returned to Denver to join the faculty at the University of Colorado in 1982. His youngest daughter, Nicole, was born shortly thereafter.
He has never found a good enough reason to leave Denver since, although he did spend a delightful sabbatical year with Professor Nick Wright, at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund in 1990. He is currently starting to make plans for another sabbatical.
Dr Ahnenís current responsibilities include a mixture of basic, clinical, and behavioral research related to colon cancer prevention. This has been made possible by the terrific collaborators and staff he works with. His other duties include education of residents and fellows on the clinical service, directing the colon cancer portion of the Hereditary Cancer Clinic, and directing the GI Training Program.
Dr Ahnenís next challenge comes this fall, when Nicole goes off to college, and he and his wife become empty nesters.
- What made you decide to become a gastroenterologist?
- I was attracted to gastroenterology because it was a more discrete area than general internal medicine, yet it offered variety. The mix of young and old patients, men and women, hollow gut and liver, consultation and procedures was appealing to me. I also always enjoyed using the classic history and physical exam to make clinical decisions and this is still the core of thoughtful consultative gastroenterology.
- Who was the teacher you admired the most?
- There have been several. In gastroenterology, Fred Kern taught me to have high expectations and to be a skeptic but not a cynic. Bill Brown and Gary Gray taught me how to think about and do research. Nick Wright taught me this as well, but also how to enjoy it more.
- Which research paper influenced you the most?
- Vogelstein, B., Fearon, E. R., Hamilton, S. R., Kern, S. E., Preisinger, A. C., Leppert, M., Nakamura, Y., White, R., Smits, A. M. M., and Bos., J. L. Genetic alteration during colorectal- tumor development, N. Engl. J. Med.1988;319: 525-32. This was an early characterization of the molecular genetics of the adenoma-carcinoma sequence. For me, it established the concept that, understanding the biology of the process of colonic carcinogenesis was integral to designing methods for understanding risk factors. It was also integral to designing interventions for prevention of colon cancer.
- What is the most important fact that you have discovered?
- Recently, the identification of biochemical targets other than COX 1 and 2 for the chemopreventive activity of NSAIDs, including cyclic GMP phosphodiesterase, and effects on beta-catenin and Ki-ras signaling. These findings have opened alternative approaches for chemoprevention of cancer.
- What is the biggest mistake that you have made?
- Not spending more time with my family
- What is your unfulfilled ambition?
- Playing major league baseball.
- What is your greatest regret?
- Both of the above
- How do you relax?
- I run, read, play baseball, ski, travel for pleasure, and enjoy spending time with both family and friends.
- What is your favorite sport?
- What is your best place in the world?
- Home for every day, Florence for the art.
- What is your favorite film?
- The closest thing to a classic favorite would be "Casablanca", for the
dramatic photography and the great lines. Recently Iíve enjoyed "The Sixth Sense"
- What car do you drive?
- We own an old Dodge Caravan and a pretty old Volvo that are mostly driven by the girls. I ride my bike to work and donít have a regularly assigned car.
- What is your best electronic 'toy'?
- I donít really have anything other than a CD player and the computer. The scanner for the computer is pretty cool.
- What book are you reading at the moment?
- "A Peopleís History of the Supreme Court" by Peter Irons, and "A Conspiracy of Paper" by David Liss. The former was prompted by the startling reversal of the judicial philosophy on the court during our last presidential election. It was both discouraging, and, in a strange way, reassuring, that this type of bending to the political winds was not a new phenomenon for the Court. The latter book is about the early days of the English Stock Market just prior to the South Sea Bubble.
- Why did you get in involved in GastroHep.com?
- It seemed like an idea whose time had come. Also, the people starting it were first rate and I was sure they would do it well.