Ramon Gomis (Reus, 1946) is an endocrinologist and dramatist who has earned numerous recognitions in both fields. He believes that medicine will be used to prevent disease and is confident that behavioral lifestyle changes will be key in prevention. We talked to him about all of this in addition to the theater, his other great passion.
Is it possible to know how we will eat in the 22nd century? Will we be healthier?
It’s always difficult to anticipate the future, but we might say the future will be based on four pillars: First of all, nutrition will be increasingly present as a key element for preventing diseases. Nutrigenomics will help us relate our genes to what we should eat. Genomic analyses can actually already confirm certain intolerances people may suffer from lactose, gluten, or the risk of atherosclerosis.
Secondly, nutrition will be an important subject in our education. We’ll want to know what we’re eating, where it comes from, and the best way of cooking it. This will be a field of great development not only in basic education, but in specialist education too.
Thirdly, we will get proteins from sources other than the classic ones. Food technology may make it possible to synthesize proteins without slaughtering as a large number of animals as we do now. In fact, livestock farming was already a significant leap from hunting, and now we’re entering a biotechnology age. Livestock farming hasn’t put an end to hunting, but it has limited it. It’s possible that biotechnology will change some aspects of livestock farming, especially stabling.
Finally, local food products will gain ground, considering that energy costs will favor this.
What was it like to head up the August Pi i Sunyer Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBAPS) for 10 years?
Directing a research institute associated with a hospital like Hospital Clínic of Barcelona was a great challenge and a great pleasure. We’ve gone through a very interesting stage, because it was my generation that led the design of research-focused health institutes, specifically applied research to respond to diseases. The commitment to talent, internationalization, and the creation of support structures were my main goals during these years.
How has scientific research managed to survive with the financial crisis? Have we lost a lot of time?
I think we’ve been able to get around the crisis based on two criteria: The first, encouraging our researchers to compete for international projects, especially in the EU. If they didn’t find money at home, they’ve found it elsewhere. It’s like a businessman who promotes exportation when the local market goes into crisis. The second, doing everything possible to maintain the model of a competitive institute, open to the world, with meritocracy and collaboration.
Is there research that might lead us to believe that diabetes could be eliminated in future?
Yes, I think so. There are different paths that can take us there. Specific vaccinations to prevent the autoimmune aggression that happens with diabetes. The substitution of cells damaged by diabetes – in other words, the insulin-producing cells – with cells identical to the ones destroyed. The replication of the remaining cells that haven’t died as a result of the aggression. We know more and we’re closer to a cure.
How will medicine evolve over the next decade? Which fields will see more change?
Medicine will be fundamentally preventive. To do away with disease, it’s necessary to prevent it. This prevention will be extended to accidents of all kinds. Many of them can be prevented. Behavioral lifestyle changes will be key in prevention, as well as risk diagnoses. If you’re at risk of developing a certain disease, it will be possible to avoid it. It’s already being done with some cancers (with cytology and incipient changes), with diabetes, AIDS…
The fields with the most change will be cancer and neurological diseases. Cancer will be a chronic disease, like diabetes, AIDS, and many cardiac diseases are now. There will also be prevention of Alzheimer’s and a cure for sclerosis or Parkinson’s.
Do you think the increasingly widespread trends such as veganism, healthy food, etc. will help increase life expectancy?
Nutrition will be much more important than it is now. Not only in terms of quantity but also quality. The increase in diets with vegetable fiber, slow absorption carbohydrates with vegetable proteins such as pulses, bread, certain cereals, or grains (quinoa, buckwheat, etc.), will play a more important role than they do now. Animal fats will be reduced and vegetable fat will be increased. That would be eating healthy, a style very close to our Mediterranean habits.
We’re able to be monitored more and more. Do you think this will help in the early detection of diseases in future?
Yes. Artificial intelligence and data collection (on a large scale) will help with having detectors or monitors to identify any changes that lead us to medicine. Vehicles already have them nowadays, and artificial intelligence will allow us to process large amounts of data that are useful for prevention.
Did you always think you would work in medicine?
No. I liked biology, but after giving it a lot of thought, it seemed to me that the most exciting biology was human biology. There was also the social application side (easing pain, curing) that drew me toward medicine. Maybe the biological root is what’s made me dedicate part of my medical activity to research.
Talk to us about your theater side. How did that come about?
As a teenager. It’s human complexity, conflict, creativity of situations…
What is theater to you?
A school of learning, a passion, a creative process.
How do you fit the two activities in around each other? You’ve received numerous awards and recognitions in both fields…
The theater has always been the great reflection, looking within and outside at the same time. It’s helped me put things in perspective; to see human suffering as a key aspect in my medical activity. There are patients and people just like there are characters, not diseases. The disease is the conflict. I’ve tried to be challenging and I’ve had good mentors.
How do you rate the theater that’s being done today in Catalonia?
It’s high quality. We’re a small, very creative country. I’m referring to the theater. I’m chairman of the board of the Teatre Lliure Foundation, and I must say the Lliure is a benchmark theater in Europe. There’s also been the theater groups Els Comediants, La Fura dels Baus, and many others.
A little taste
The best time for having a glass of wine?
With a meal, in company. In the evening, before dinner, with a good conversation.
A song for savoring a wine.
Somewhere you’d get lost.
What do you do in your spare time?
I do gardening. I walk in the woods.
One flaw and one virtue.
One major flaw: being too stubborn. Trying to have a virtue. One virtue: cordiality.
What did you want to be when you were little? And once you were older?
A farmer when I was little and a doctor and writer now that I’m older.