CEO Spotlight

CEO Spotlight: Q&A with Constantine Stratakis, Senior Investigator at the National Institutes of Health

Constantine Stratakis

Constantine Stratakis is a senior investigator at The National Institutes of Health. He has spent more than a decade researching mutations in human genes and identified the PRKAR1A gene in 2000. He trains students from all over the world to research and has had his work published over 700 times. He sits on the boards of a number of journals and became the co-editor-in-chief of Hormone & Metabolic Research in 2015. In 2017, he joined the senior editorial team at Molecular & Cellular Endocrinology (MCE). He was deputy editor of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism from 2010 to 2014. He has spent his career identifying the genes responsible for Carney complex and related disorders, gigantism, bilateral adrenal hyperplasias, and other endocrine diseases. One disease, Carney-Stratakis, bears his name.

As a focused researcher, Constantine Stratakis takes his mastery to other academic centers, presenting his approach and findings to schools, like Harvard University, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and others. He has received many honors for his work, including the Ernst Oppenheimer Award from the Endocrine Society in 2009 and the 1999 Pharmacia-Endocrine Society Award for Excellence. In 2015, he was proud to receive the NICHD Mentor Award for his work with hundreds of up-and-coming students in the medical research field.

He has a strong interest in endocrine diseases, especially those with a predisposition for tumors and other neoplasms. Dr. Stratakis continues to see patients and families as a medical doctor because he values the “physician” part of being a physician scientist.

Could you tell us about your current position and your research?

I am a senior investigator at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States, where I have been privileged to be in various leadership positions for the last 18 years. As an investigator, I have been running my own laboratory at NIH for over 25 years now. My laboratory focuses on identifying the genes or other genetic defects that predispose patients to the development of endocrine tumors. We started with the study of pituitary and adrenal tumors in the context of endocrine neoplasia syndromes but gradually expanded to other lesions and cancers, both inherited and sporadic, not in the context of any genetic syndromes.

What has your career path been so far, and what you are most proud of?

I’ve been at the NIH since 1993. However, I have worked on endocrinology research since 1985 and am originally from Greece. Between medical school and my postdoctoral years, I spent some time in Paris, France, where many of my collaborators are from. Over the years, I have been very fortunate to have built a great global network of friends, mentors, and collaborators.

I’m indeed grateful to my many extraordinary collaborators from all over the world who have been so loyal and good to me – some for over 35 years! I would not have achieved what I have without them.

I am also proud of the fact that I have helped, sparked, or nurtured the careers of many – more than 200 people at various levels of training in the last 30 years: students, fellows, nurses, and other health care staff. Today, many of them are members of university faculties around the world, so I get invited to faraway places. My trainees have become my friends and family, and I am delighted that I have been given this opportunity to affect the lives and careers of so many!

You recently received the Society of Endocrinology Dale Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the society. What were the main accomplishments that led to this honor?

In my laboratory, we have worked on the causes of more than 30 rare syndromes, such as Carney complex, multiple endocrine neoplasia types 1 and 4 (MEN 1 and MEN 4), X-linked acrogigantism (X-LAG), and others, and we have uncovered important clues about what leads to the formation of both hereditary and sporadic endocrine tumors.

Who do you admire, professionally or otherwise?

I consider myself very fortunate to have met and learned from Dr J. Aidan Carney from the Mayo Clinic and admire him for his extraordinary acumen, commitment to academia, and dedication to discovery. He discovered three different diseases, including Carney complex, with which I started my career in genetics. There is now a disease that bears our names: Carney-Stratakis syndrome. Dr. Carney taught me what I now enjoy most about my work – the pleasure that comes from discovering something new and exciting within what was previously unknown or ignored, as Albert Szent-Gyorgi said.

Beyond Dr. Carney, I have been very fortunate to have met and been inspired by giants in medical genetics like Robert J. Gorlin and Francis Collins. I also had mentors in my early career that were amazing to me, including Professor Menelaos Batrinos, Dr. Spiros Pitoulis, Professor Jean-Pierre Luton, Dr. Owen M. Rennert, Professor George P. Chrousos, and Dr. Carolyn Bondy. It is their teachings and leading by example that guide me to this day.

Do you have any words of wisdom for your younger colleagues?

My advice would be to follow your heart and do what you want to do. Don’t be dissuaded by what others say or by a lack of funding or opportunities. As Nelson Mandela said, “it always seems impossible until it’s done.” Surround yourself with great mentors, friends, collaborators, and eventually, yes, trainees; be nice to all of them because they will be there for you for the rest of your life. And remember that the journey is yours, only yours; success is a journey for which there is no other path than the path you make, very much like what Antonio Machado said: “Traveller, there is no path. A path is made by walking.” (“Caminante, no hay camino se hace camino al andar.”)

Follow Constantine on his Website.

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