• Research

    Curious John

Portrait of Dr. Giudicessi
John Guidecessi, M.D., Ph.D.

When John Giudicessi, M.D., Ph.D., was growing up in Des Moines, Iowa, he fueled his incessant curiosity by taking apart unused items in the family’s basement. He caught frogs and turtles in a backyard creek. He loved figuring out how things worked. His parents encouraged him to ask questions. Dr. Giudicessi says the burgeoning scientist was evident, but he didn’t grow up in a medical or scientific household and, therefore, didn’t fully appreciate the career possibilities.

Working with what he knew, Dr. Giudicessi planned to major in biology in college, go to medical school and eventually practice general medicine in his home state.

An outlet for curiosity

During college, Dr. Giudicessi learned to channel his curiosity into science. He did an internship in soybean genetics at Pioneer Hi-Bred International, participated in Mayo Clinic’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) and then served as a research technician at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. He loved the research but missed the connection to people — patients. One of his undergraduate mentors, Elizabeth De Stasio, Ph.D., had told him he might get bored with clinical medicine. She urged him to consider an M.D.-Ph.D. Dr. Giudicessi had gotten the Mayo bug during his time in the SURF program and applied to the Medical Scientist Training Program.

For Ph.D. training, Dr. Giudicessi joined the lab of Michael Ackerman, M.D., Ph.D., Divisions of Heart Rhythm Services and Pediatric Cardiology; Department of Molecular Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics; and the Windland Smith Rice Cardiovascular Genomics Research Professor. Dr. Ackerman is a world-renowned genetic cardiologist, and Dr. Giudicessi will soon become Mayo Clinic’s next genetic cardiologist with a focus on adults with genetic heart diseases.

“Children with genetic heart disease grow up and need continuity of care,” says Dr. Giudicessi. “As one of the first adult genetic cardiologists at Mayo Clinic, I hope to address that need and expand the use of genetics in the adult space.”

‘One of the special ones’

Even though he initially struggled to find a way to fulfill both his people orientation and scientific curiosity, Dr. Giudicessi triumphed — and then some.

“Not only has Dr. Giudicessi excelled in his research career but he also is an incredible clinician,” says Frank Brozovich, M.D., Ph.D., Division of Comprehensive Cardiology at Mayo Clinic and Dr. Giudicessi’s clinical training program director. “There’s a stereotype that clinician-investigators aren’t as good at the clinical side as the typical fellow. Patients love Dr. Giudicessi, and he’s an absolute pleasure to be around. Another consultant sent me a note saying, ‘You better recruit this guy.’ I have no doubt Dr. Giudicessi will make seminal contributions to the scientific literature and be the go-to person to have your family members see when they need cardiovascular care.”

Dr. Giudicessi’s research focuses on using precision medicine to improve the diagnosis, risk stratification and clinical management of patients with sudden cardiac death-predisposing genetic heart disorders. His efforts have spanned the research spectrum from the discovery and functional characterization of new disease susceptibility genes and genetic modifiers to the development and prospective assessment of artificial intelligence-enabled approaches to identify these disorders in settings not amenable to conventional 12-lead electrocardiography.

“I want to utilize precision medicine proactively to identify those individuals with a genetic predisposition for cardiovascular disease so we can provide appropriate counseling and treatment before the onset of severe and potentially life-threatening manifestations,” says Dr. Giudicessi.

His work has resulted in more than 60 peer-reviewed publications and young investigator and career development awards — including the 2021 Mayo Clinic Alumni Association Donald C. Balfour Award for Meritorious Research.

Dr. Giudicessi’s research mentor, Dr. Ackerman, received the Balfour award in 2000. “The Balfour Award is very special — Mayo Clinic Alumni Association’s highest recognition of scholarly research by a trainee,” says Dr. Ackerman. “Dr. Giudicessi is incredibly deserving of it. I’m fortunate that our relationship has moved to the next phase as colleagues and partners. He is one of the truly special ones, and his career will be exciting to watch.”

This article was originally published in Mayo Clinic Alumni Magazine.