Getting to Know You: George Laliotis, Medical Research Scientist

As a physician, a scientist, and an entrepreneur, George Laliotis is passionate about conducting potentially life-saving medical research relating to cancer treatment.

George completed medical school at the University of Crete, a multi-disciplinary, research-oriented institution with campuses located in the cities of Rethymno and Heraklion in Greece. He relocated to the United States in 2017, proceeding to earn certifications from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Johns Hopkins School of Engineering, and Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. George Laliotis is considered to be an expert in the medical fields of Oncology and Hematology, as well as researcher of the highest caliber.

Recently, George has made a discovery that holds the potential to revolutionize medical care both for cancer patients, as well as patients suffering from many other sorts of maladies, and is in the process of transitioning his efforts to the private sector to foster quicker and more widespread results.

These days, while working an 80-hour week in order to launch his new business, George Laliotis is also pursuing an MBA in Business Management. By doing so, it is his intention to more fully grasp the business aspects of the healthcare industry. His current area of focus is on biotech models within large healthcare facilities and private practices, and he is pursuing the requisite knowledge to develop a financial model that promotes his scientific research and his new pharmaceutical innovations.

What inspired you to get into the medical sciences industry?

Since I was young, I’ve had a strong curiosity about science. Even as a toddler, I was always trying to build something, make something, or destroy something—at least, according to my mother. Also, I was fascinated by the number of people you could impact by practicing science, transforming their lives through scientific and medical innovations. That impact might not only be helping individual patients, but also making discoveries that could impact a great many patients across the world.

The combination of being a physician/scientist is unique in that way because you can potentially help so many people. Even if one patient dies, although it’s tragic, there are discoveries that can be made by physicians and scientists as a result of gathering information from the case. Such discoveries can impact the lives of thousands of patients. I believe the work I do has the potential to help a large number of people, and that’s what originally inspired me to choose my career.

How do you stay engaged and hungry for knowledge?

I think my hunger for knowledge comes from my interaction with the available technology, as well as environments which encourage my scientific mind. It’s just how my brain is structured, and I think it’s something that will never go away. I’m fascinated by the details about how things work, and with computing and artificial intelligence in particular. AI and big data provide an incredible way to leverage knowledge. I find them to be great stimuli in my hunger for knowledge, and I consistently harvest their findings to learn as much as possible and build on my innate curiosity. My interest in AI and big data have caused me to learn a great deal about software engineering and hone my computational skills. The more I know about matters in this realm, the better I can answer clinical questions and help people. That is the whole reason why I’m continuously educating myself.

What are the keys to staying productive that you can share?

I believe staying productive has a lot to do with people. It’s important to surround yourself with people that you really love. I have three or four people in my life who are remarkably close to me, and they’ve been very influential in how I live my life and manage my long hours. From the time I was a medical student, when I was desperate to find a position in Greece—and later in the United States, as well—and when I was tired and exhausted and working long hours, those wonderful people have been with me, encouraging me every step of the way.

Another thing that keeps me productive is that I always remember the reason why I started my career, and why I worked so hard to get where I am today. 

In addition, I play soccer two or three times a week. When I have time, I also play guitar. These activities are methods of recreation that I find provide me with a great work/life balance. Exercise is another thing I make time for every day. It’s particularly important to me, and I’ve developed a daily habit. Positive habits are another way that I stay disciplined and productive.

Can you share a long-term career goal?

My long-term strategy is to use all the knowledge and expertise I’ve learned from the different settings in which I’ve applied myself—academics, the laboratory, the healthcare industry, the private sector—in order to help as many people as I possibly can. I envision launching a training and residency program for Internal Medicine and Hematology. I don’t really see myself working in one hospital from nine to five seeing patients. Instead, I see myself sharing everything that I have built over the years, and sharing the knowledge that I have accumulated, analyzed, and synthesized into new discoveries in order to positively impact peoples’ lives for years to come.

Specifically, one of my major long-term career goals is to share the ability to manage oncology patients in a multidisciplinary manner. The plan goes something like this: We will begin with applying basic science in the development and identification of new pathways involving cancer. We will include research on how drugs are being developed and evaluated, and document how to treat patients. As a medical oncologist, I can develop public health policies in order to prevent the misuse of other procedures. Overall, I seek to create a more holistic approach for the patient and to help both patients and their families with all the tools at my disposal.

What advice would you give to others aspiring to succeed as a scientist or a physician?

The best advice I can give is to find a good mentor. That’s especially important. I would suggest that people be very careful and selective in choosing their mentors. A mentor can have a tremendous effect on your career, transforming it either positively or negatively.

Another important point is to not be afraid of hard work. Sometimes, people think that accomplishments come without sacrifice. This is, of course, not true.

A third piece of advice I would give echoes one of my earlier responses, and that is to surround yourself with good, reliable people who have your best interests at heart. I learned the hard way that one of the main things that defines you are the people that you hold close in your life. There is no award, fellowship, money, or position that is more important than these relationships. You are defined by your family and the people that you have around you—your wife, your friends, your significant other—and also the hobbies and practices that enrich your life.

How would your colleagues describe you?

I think I’m sometimes seen as aggressive, but only from the standpoint of working; never towards other people. I work very hard and keep long hours. I’m only 29 years old, but sometimes I’m referred to as the ‘dad’ of the laboratory.

How do you maintain a work-life balance?

I can’t pretend like I have attained a perfect balance in this respect. I start early in the morning and put in as many hours as I can. For the past year, I’ve tried to maintain a hotline in case anyone needs to reach me after I’ve finished for the day, but recently, I’ve made the decision to end all work at 7:30 pm. Anything work-related that happens after 7:30 pm can wait till 5:30 or 6 am the next day. These days, after work, I’ll either have a coffee with a friend or play soccer. My new schedule is working pretty well so far.

What is the piece of technology that helps you the most in your daily routine?

Without a doubt, the technology that helps me the most with my daily routine is my computer. I have a very high-end computing system that performs very well. It addresses robust computational software, artificial intelligence, sophisticated programming, and software engineering. I think without my laptop, I would be severely limited. It’s never turned off.

What has been the hardest obstacle you’ve overcome? 

The toughest time I had to overcome was when I first came to the United States. I was working in a large lab as a physician in training. I was in Graduate School for Biology. I didn’t even know the names of most of the pieces of equipment. The majority of the people there were not much help, either. Basically, I was alone in Boston. It was an incredibly expensive place to live and very cold. It took 18 months for me to land a job and to succeed at becoming independent, but I eventually established myself in a way that enabled me to be unencumbered and to think for myself. However, in order to do that, I had to work 18-19 hours a day. That time in my life was fraught with huge obstacles that I had to overcome.

Who has been a role model to you, And why?

My two grandfathers had completely different backgrounds and I admire them both a great deal. One of my grandfathers is very well-educated. He began with nothing and came from a small village, but he was very good at math. I believe my passion for numbers and technology came directly from him. In the 1940s, after the German occupation, he was in the south of Peloponnese where he built a whole empire with my grandmother. Initially, he was a technician in telecommunications, but later, he invented a machine which enabled him to start his own company. He provided well for his family. He has been a great role model for me, not only scientifically, but also as a man, a father, and a husband.

My other grandfather became a priest when he was 20 years old. He lives deep in the mountains. He was never into school as a young man, but he worked day and night in agriculture. He had his own sheep and goats, and he loved nature. To this day, he walks 16 kilometers at 6 am to get to church every morning after tending to the goats, and when he returns, he works in the fields. Eventually, he attended a theological school at the age of 85, which is really commendable.

It was amazing to see both of them when I went back to Greece recently. Even though they are completely different in their natures and experiences, they’re great examples of men with resilience and a desire to care for their families and take responsibility for their communities. Both of them never cease to amaze me.

What is one piece of advice you have never forgotten? 

One of the things my mother told me before I left for the United States was that it was clear to her that I was very committed to a single focus. She said that I see only science and big institutions. Then she said to be careful not to get trapped in this gilded cage, and that if I sensed something bad was going to happen, I should consider changing jobs. And she was right to warn me about that. Eventually, I felt trapped in my situation and I changed jobs. It would have been catastrophic if I had stayed there. That advice from my mother is something I always keep in my mind.

I’ll give another example: When I was a teenager, I would make fun of my father as he was getting old. In response, he used to say, “I have been in the position that you are now, and one day, you will be in the position that I am now.” Now that I’m getting older, I recognize upon reflection that my father had many troubles at work, especially during the economic crisis. Suffice to say, it’s very easy to make fun of someone when you are younger, more capable, and fortunate than those older than you, but it’s a very short-sighted thing to do. “One thing you have to be aware of every moment is that things can change extremely fast.” That’s a piece of advice from my father that I always remember.