Dr. Eric Harrison ’64 wants to change the way the medical community thinks about heart health. He might just save your life in the process.
Dr. Eric Harrison ’64’s reputation bore his not-so-secret identity of Captain Cardiac, the Sunshine State’s superhero of heart health. Photos by Scott Cook
By this point, a half-century after graduating from Rollins in three years and going on to medical school at the University of Kentucky, Dr. Eric Harrison ’64’s credentials as one of Florida’s premier cardiologists are copious and unimpeachable.
He’s performed more than 14,000 heart catheterizations, pioneered the use of hypothermia for patients undergoing heart attacks, founded the first outpatient cardiovascular clinic at Tampa Memorial Hospital, created a freestanding Advanced Cardiac Imaging Center, helped start the International Cardio-Oncology Society, and launched the International Cardio-Orthopedic Academy—and that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. His CV is 4,500 words long, and not a word of it feels superfluous.
Yet, even after all of that, Harrison is far from finished. In fact, the 2018 Alumni Achievement Award recipient thinks he’s on to something big, something revolutionary. Harrison likens himself to Dr. Henry Heimlich, who spent years trying to convince a recalcitrant medical community of his maneuver’s efficacy. He’s developed a method of screening for cardiac problems that he believes can save lives, and now he’s on a mission to convince the medical world of it.
Harrison’s latest venture is called the Sherlock Program, developed by his startup, PrivaCors. In short, the program uses CT imaging to predict cardiac problems more effectively and accurately than stress testing, a common technique used today in the U.S.
“We abandoned stress testing in 2004,” he says, because it produced too many false positives. “The European standards are now to do the CT scan instead of the stress test. We started dealing with people who are asymptomatic. We can predict heart attacks in those people.”
Photos by Scott Cook
With a clear CT scan, he says, you have “a 15-year warranty.” That’s because the scan looks for more than blockages; it also can identify “blisters,” the cause of 75 percent of heart attacks. Other diagnostic tests can be problematic, he says, either because they pose a risk to the patient or because they’re inaccurate.
“Some people, maybe three out of 1,000, could die from a cardiac catheter,” he says. “Fifty percent of nuclear stress tests are inaccurate. We decided that we needed to come up with something. With the Sherlock Program, what we’ve done is drilled deeper and spent more time analyzing and then putting all the data together.”
Soon that analysis will be aided by artificial intelligence. Right now, the Sherlock Program can analyze about 10 cases a day. Aided by a supercomputer in Palo Alto, a database of more than 5,500 cardiac patients, and AI—PrivaCors has been selected to collaborate with IBM Watson Healthcare—it could analyze 20,000 a day, allowing doctors to more precisely predict cardiac problems before they occur.
Dr. Harrison was recognized with an Alumni Achievement Award during Alumni Weekend 2018. Photo by Scott Cook
None of this would be happening, he adds, if he hadn’t chosen Rollins a half-century ago. The multidisciplinary approach ingrained in him at Rollins, he says, has made him a more creative doctor and led him to pioneer a solution to the world’s leading cause of death.
“Rollins gives you the opportunity, through liberal arts and the humanities, to be more sophisticated, more knowledgeable,” says Harrison. “It’s called versatility, and you can see how important that was.”
To give back to Rollins, which provided him with the intellectual foundation for his future endeavors, he recently partnered with the Center for Career & Life Planning on a new shadowing program for pre-med students. The program, which launched in January, will complement Rollins’ Pre-Med Observership Program, a partnership that Dr. Joseph Portoghese ’79 forged between the College and Florida Hospital in the mid-2000s. While that program allows participants to shadow doctors in a variety of specialty areas, Harrison’s version is focused on advanced cardiac imaging, artificial intelligence, and algorithms—the stuff he believes is the future of a changing medical world.
“The future of medicine is all in the algorithms,” he says. “We’ve learned for so many years how to answer questions, but we haven’t learned how to ask the right questions. Now we’re going to have to ask questions, not answer them. The computer’s going to answer; we need to ask the questions. So the whole thing’s backward. And we need to flip it.”
Photo by Scott Cook
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