Prof. Dr. Martin Bobak is a professor of epidemiology and public health, and a member of NAKO’s scientific advisory board. We talked to him about his career as a scientist, epidemiological studies and the distinctiveness of NAKO.
1. Why did you become a scientist? Had you always planned to do so?
I became a scientist by chance. When I studied medicine, I wanted to become a psychiatrist. But then I met a charismatic teacher in the epidemiology course, a sort of Indiana Jones type, with adventurous experiences from exotic places during the smallpox eradication programme. I started to work part time in his lab and soon and I slowly realized I wanted to be an epidemiologist. From this point on, it was still a complicated way but the direction was clear.
2. How and why did you become a member of NAKO’s scientific advisory board?
I am not sure. I guess some of the members of the NAKO group knew about me, so one day I got an email with an invitation. Since NAKO is one of the most exciting studies in the world, I did not hesitate for one minute.
3. Have you already been involved in other epidemiological studies?
Since my Masters course at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, I have been surrounded by epidemiological studies. When I moved to UCL, I became close to the Whitehall II cohort, a well know study of civil servants in the UK. As part of my PhD I started planning a new cohort in Central and Eastern Europe, which subsequently recruited 36,000 participants in four countries. The cohort is still continuing.
4. What are the key differences between NAKO and other cohort studies?
The main difference from most cohort studies is the scale. Not just the size the study but also the level of detail of information collected on each participant. In the practical side, the complexity of funding, design and logistics (with many research hubs involved) is also much larger than most cohorts.
5. In your opinion, what role will epidemiology play in the future?
I wonder myself about it. The epidemiology of infectious diseases will be with us forever, just remember the Covid pandemic. I suspect that epidemiology of chronic diseases will need to evolve from the traditional risk factor epidemiology to something else, probably focusing on molecular markers, -omics etc. I guess this what NAKO is trying to do. But there will be always space for studies looking at societal, economic or psychological determinants of various health outcomes.
6. What do you expect from NAKO?
I expect that NAKO will become a major research resource, similarly to the UK Biobank. For me personally, membership of NAKO’s scientific advisory board is an opportunity to observed closely the machinery of a very large and complex study. I am not sure how much I can contribute but I can definitely learn. I hope my previous experience from (smaller) studies can be useful.