Dr. Belinda Tan is Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of Science 37 where she is dedicated to creating positive change in communities by helping people understand what it means to live healthy lives. She’s providing accessible information through Science 37’s innovative technology service platform, which brings research and decentralized clinical trials into the homes of everyday people looking for better treatment. Dr. Tan has published several articles in peer-reviewed scientific medical journals and oversees all of Science 37’s scientific operations.
Dr. Tan is also an artist, new mother, and explorer. She received a Bachelor’s of Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an MD from UCLA, completing her dermatology residency at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, as well as a dermatopathology fellowship at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Cornell-New York Presbyterian Hospital. Dr. Tan is also a practicing dermatologist and dermatopathologist living in Southern California with her husband, and 6-month-old son, Buna.
In conversation with Dr. Tan:
Why do you do what you do? In other words, what gets you up in the morning? I think of myself as an explorer and an artist, as well as a physician and scientist. What gets me up in the morning is the excitement of knowing that I have the tools and the team around me to delve in and actually fix problems that may lead to a better quality of life for everyone.
What led you to science? I’ve always been drawn to science, mechanisms and understanding the hows and the whats of day-to-day life. My fascination started in elementary school and continued into high school where one of my favorite classes was psychology. When I realized that something as simple as neurons firing could lead to the complexity of human behavior — I was hooked. I wanted to learn everything I could about the brain and human health.
Why are bacteria important? Bacteria are some of the most simple yet some of the most complex life forms on this planet. The complex parts about bacteria are how they interact with us humans. I love how the way we think about bacteria has evolved so drastically over the past several decades. We went from not even knowing they existed, to appreciating them as fundamental co-habitants of everything we see, do and experience. There’s so much more to learn when it comes to host-human interactions. This is one of the most exciting areas of medical research today.
How do you define science? I think science is art. Science is…nature having had millennia to figure out the most elegant way to make things work. And I think when you figure out a beautiful, elegant solution to a question — that’s art. Science is also being curious about who we are, where we are, and how we got here. It’s also a field where people who have infinite curiosity and a lot of discipline can have a lot of fun.
How do you define health? I’m a scientist, yet, I still think that there’s a lot about humans consciousness, our existence, and our individuality that I can’t yet explain—no scientist can with any definitive, empirical data. Related to that, I think that health is the connection between mind, body, community and everything around us. Health is not simply eating a healthy diet, or getting a lot of sleep, it’s when your physical and physiological states melt together with your environment, community, and the people around you.
We have so much more to learn about health, but a large part resides in our minds and how that translates into how we feel about our bodies and our environments.
Can share your favorite science fact? Well, this is Buna [infant in photo] and he’s 5 months old. And infants actually have a greater density of brain neurons than we adults do. You see, from newborn to toddler there’s a lot of “pruning” that happens as the brain develops and plasticity forms. I think it’s fascinating that Buna has a more dense brain of neurons than we do… if you couldn’t already tell, I’m fascinated by the brain.
Why work with a company like Seed? There’s a scientific rigor in how Seed thinks about health, and that’s a really critical part in establishing how people truly understanding what it means to be healthy. I’m drawn to Seed because I think they’re aiming to bring big questions about science and bacteria to the world of health, in a way that everyone can interact with. So much critical information is not easily accessible and therefore not serving people.
Tan B H, Busam K J, Pulitzer M P. “Combined intraepidermal neuroendocrine (Merkel cell) and squamous cell carcinoma in situ with CM2B4 negativity and p53 overexpression(*)” J Cutan Pathol, 39(6):626-30, 2012 Jun. Web 2012 Apr 24. Accessed 2018 June 4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22524588. DOI: 10.1111/j.1600-0560.2012.01908.x.
Balagula Y, Rosen A, Tan B H, Busam K J, Pulitzer M P, Motzer R J, Feldman D R, Konner J A, Reidy-Lagunes D, Myskowski P L, Lacouture M E. “Clinical and histopathologic characteristics of rash in cancer patients treated with mammalian target of rapamycin inhibitors.”Cancer, 118(20):5078-83, 2012 Oct 15. Web 2012 Mar 21. Accessed 2018 June 4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22437824. DOI: 10.1002/cncr.27505.
Chung C, Tumeh P C, Birnbaum R, Tan B H, Sharp L, McCoy E, Mercurio M G, Craft N. “Characteristic purpura of the ears, vasculitis, and neutropenia–a potential public health epidemic associated with levamisole-adulterated cocaine.” J Am Acad Dermatol, 65(4):722-5, 2011 Oct. Web 2011 Jun 11. Accessed 2018 June 4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21658797. DOI: 10.1016/j.jaad.2010.08.024.
an B H, Barry C I, Wick M R, White K P, Brown J G, Lee A, Litchfield A H, Lener E V, Shitabata P K. “Multicentric reticulohistiocytosis and urologic carcinomas: a possible paraneoplastic association.” J Cutan Pathol, 38(1):43-8, 2011 Jan. Web 2010 Aug 18. Accessed 2018 June 4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20726933. DOI: 10.1111/j.1600-0560.2010.01608.x.
Kao S L, Chan C L, Tan B, Lim C C, Dalan R, Gardner D, Pratt E, Lee M, Lee K O. “An unusual outbreak of hypoglycemia.” N Engl J Med,360(7):734-6, 2009 Feb 12. Accessed 2018 June 4.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19213693. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMc0807678.
Koh L P, Chen C S, Tai B C, Hwang W Y, Tan L K, Ng H Y, Linn Y C, Koh M B, Goh Y T, Tan B, Lim S, Lee Y M, Tan K W, Liu T C, Ng H J, Loh Y S, Mow B M, Tan D C, Tan P H. “Impact of postgrafting immunosuppressive regimens on nonrelapse mortality and survival after nonmyeloablative allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplant using the fludarabine and low-dose total-body irradiation 200-cGy.” Biol Blood Marrow Transplant, 13(7):790-805, 2007 Jul. Web 2007 Apr 23. Accessed 2018 June 4 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17580257.
Tan B H, Meinken C, Bastian M, Bruns H, Legaspi A, Ochoa M T, Krutzik S R, Bloom B R, Ganz T, Modlin R L, Stenger S. “Macrophages acquire neutrophil granules for antimicrobial activity against intracellular pathogens.” J Immunol, 177(3):1864-71, 2006 Aug 1. Accessed 2018 June 4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16849498.
Liu P T, Stenger S, Li H, Wenzel L, Tan B H, Krutzik S R, Ochoa M T, Schauber J, Wu K, Meinken C, Kamen D L, Wagner M, Bals R, Steinmeyer A, Zügel U, Gallo RL, Eisenberg D, Hewison M, Hollis B W, Adams J S, Bloom B R, Modlin R L. “Toll-like receptor triggering of a vitamin D-mediated human antimicrobial response.” Science, 311(5768):1770-3, 2006 Mar 24. Web 2006 Feb 23. Accessed 2018 June 4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16497887.
Krutzik S R, Tan B, Li H, Ochoa M T, Liu P T, Sharfstein S E, Graeber T G, Sieling P A, Liu Y J, Rea T H, Bloom B R, Modlin R L. “TLR activation triggers the rapid differentiation of monocytes into macrophages and dendritic cells.” Nat Med, 11(6):653-60, 2005 Jun. Web 2005 May 8. Accessed 2018 June 4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15880118.