TAMEST Member Profile: Kenneth Ramos, M.D., Ph.D. (NAM), Texas A&M University Health Science Center
Kenneth Ramos, M.D., Ph.D. (NAM), an internationally recognized leader in genomics, toxicology and precision medicine, moved back to Texas in 2019 to lead the Texas A&M University Health Science Center (Texas A&M Health) Institute of Biosciences and Technology (IBT) in Houston and to serve as assistant vice chancellor for health services for the Texas A&M University System.
Dr. Ramos was recruited to Texas A&M Health thanks to the Governor’s University Research Initiative (GURI), enacted by Governor Greg Abbott in 2015 to attract transformative researchers to the state of Texas. Dr. Ramos became an associate of the National Academy of Sciences in 2008 and was elected to the National Academy of Medicine in 2015 for his research in genomics and toxicology, molecular medicine, and more.
While both his research and clinical practice primarily focus on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer, he serves as a consultant to other physicians and helps to identify patients who might be at a higher risk of various cancers or inferior clinical outcomes. While he loves academic research and education, Dr. Ramos also values transformational leadership and believes in “paying it forward” to future generations. As such, he enjoys helping other professionals navigate their own career trajectory through his depth of expertise in research, education, and clinical service.
TAMEST connected with Dr. Ramos to find out more about his personal life and work.
Tell us a little about yourself.
In a personal sense, I am a husband and a father. My wife, Irma, is a recently retired emergency medicine pediatrician and public health professional who devoted much of her career to addressing an array of pressing public health issues ranging from barriers to childhood immunization to precision prevention of environmental health disparities.
We have two wonderful children, Kristie and Ken Alexander, who Irma and I are incredibly proud of. Kristie is a pediatric resident physician at Washington University in St. Louis who intends to become a transplantation oncologist, and Ken Alexander is an entrepreneur who lives and works in California.
In a professional sense, I work as physician executive for Texas A&M University where I lead the medical research enterprise and conduct research in the areas of pulmonary medicine and precision oncology. My professional career has evolved over the years from one that was focused on the discovery of fundamental biological mechanisms of cell injury to one that emphasizes the translational aspects of scientific discovery and technological innovation. I am passionate in my pursuit of new scientific knowledge and committed to improving the changing landscape of medicine and public health.
You are internationally recognized for research in genomics and predictive biology, environmental and molecular medicine and toxicology. What made you get into this field?
I have broad professional interests, as evidenced by the breadth of my professional training and the translational and clinical research questions that I tackle in my research and intellectual pursuits. A common threat to my research is the unraveling of biological pathways that allow cells to transition from a healthy to a diseased state.
My work focuses on the study of genetic, lifestyle and environmental determinants of disease and I am deeply committed to using this knowledge to transform the delivery of healthcare. Within this context, my work has paved the way for a deeper understanding of the molecular regulation of “jumping” genes and their role in chromatin remodeling, DNA damage and repair, and genetic reprogramming.
Tell us about your decision to go from scientific research to academic leadership. What is it like providing senior leadership in scientific and strategic research planning?
While my research has been incredibly rewarding on a personal level, academic leadership has afforded me the opportunity to positively influence the trajectory and success of the constituencies that I serve.
For me, senior leadership represents a way to “pay it forward”, while simultaneously working to build teams that can help to reduce disease burden, improve the quality of healthcare, and contain health-related costs.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected research at Texas A&M Health?
Like many institutions within the United States and around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us into a “new” reality. For the Texas A&M Health community, this has demanded numerous adjustments, but has also inspired innovative ways in which we have been able to continue to carry out our mission, all while protecting the health and safety of all.
As we begin to regain momentum, we look forward to a stronger future.
What long-term effects do you see this having on scientific research in the state of Texas?
We have, unfortunately, been forced to face the many challenges posed by a widespread communicable disease on both personal and professional levels. This pandemic has shifted our priorities and will inevitably transform our core values for generations to come.
In the long-term, I am confident that the scientific and medical communities will continue to discover ways to improve efficiencies of scale and make adjustments in their approaches to public health research and practice.
Why did you decide to uproot your life in Arizona to live and work in Texas?
The ability to oversee major components of the Texas A&M Health Sciences research portfolio, and the opportunity to lead institutional expansion efforts within the Texas Medical Center, represented a captivating proposition to me.
In navigating this decision, we were ultimately moved by our love for Texas A&M and its people, and our appreciation and admiration of the core values embedded within the Texas A&M culture.
What does being a member of TAMEST mean to you?
I am honored to be a member of TAMEST and to work closely with other prominent research leaders across the state to recognize and promote research in medicine, engineering, science, and technology, and to cultivate the next generation of scientific leaders within the state of Texas and across the world.
Why is TAMEST important to the state of Texas?
TAMEST’s mission to advance scientific excellence within the state through recognition of its top achievers and its support of targeted educational programs provides a captivating and ideal platform to attract talent to the state, and to ultimately advance our position as a lead institution in the nation and across the globe.