Meet Eric Rubin, MD, PhD, Infectious Disease Expert and Now Editor-in-Chief of the New England Journal of Medicine
March 10, 2020
Eric Rubin, MD, PhD, the new editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), is a leading infectious disease expert, renowned for his groundbreaking tuberculosis research. He was selected for the role of editor-in-chief in June 2019 after a worldwide search and took over the top editorial post in September.
Before becoming editor-in-chief, Dr. Rubin was an associate editor at NEJM. Associate editors are chosen for their expertise in major areas of medicine. He was also the chair of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and the Irene Heinz Given Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases. Dr. Rubin will continue to run his lab focusing on TB and maintain his very small clinical practice at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He believes retaining those responsibilities will make him a better editor-in-chief.
“I look at manuscripts differently because I’m an active researcher, submitting manuscripts to journals as well, so I appreciate what authors go through,” he explained. “And because of my lab work, I’m comfortable assessing the basic science component of manuscripts. I’m also comfortable with how to message work for a clinical audience. My work in the lab makes me value research that can truly change things.”
Dr. Rubin’s research focuses on the pathogenesis of tuberculosis, as well as prevention and treatment. His lab has developed many of the genetic tools used to study the causative organism, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and has used them to understand the molecular mechanisms underlying virulence, susceptibility, and resistance to antibiotics.
Dr. Rubin grew up in a middle-class family in Brockton, a city south of Boston. His salesman father, whom he describes as one of the funniest people he ever knew, decided early on that his son would go to medical school — the acme of achievement in his eyes. An academically gifted student, Dr. Rubin had his pick of elite schools and Princeton was at the top of his list. But his father had other ideas. He bought his son five Harvard t-shirts and said he was free to attend the college of his choice, but that he would look odd wearing those shirts at Princeton. Dr. Rubin graduated from Harvard and went on to earn an MD/PhD from Tufts University School of Medicine.
Dr. Rubin said he’s still in the “scouting” stage of his new job, becoming familiar with NEJM and its operations, but he’s begun thinking about less traditional ways to communicate its content. “Our mission remains unchanged: to deliver highly valuable medical research and reviews to health care professionals. But how we deliver information may change. As the way people consume news evolves, we need to be in front, and not simply responsive. We need to adapt.”
When asked about the areas of medicine that are producing the most exciting research, Dr. Rubin talked about the ways technology is transforming fields like neuroscience. “There are all kinds of new single cell methodologies — very sophisticated approaches that help us understand the behavior of single cells within a large, complex organ like a brain,” he said. “Scientists haven’t yet translated the knowledge into things we do for patients, but it’s very, very interesting research.”
Although his dad is no longer around to delight in his son’s new job, Dr. Rubin knows exactly how he would react. “He would be thrilled. Both my parents were proud of their children. They were pure in their support and love for us.”
Dr. Rubin also serves on several scientific advisory boards to groups interested in infectious disease therapeutics, among them the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development, the Structure-Guided Drug Development Consortium, and the Sub-Saharan African Network for TB/HIV Research Excellence at the KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for TB-HIV. He has also previously served as an editor for several basic science journals, including PLoS Pathogens, Tuberculosis, and Current Opinion in Microbiology.