Michael F. Wilson, MD, has always been interested in the new and exciting. Over the course of a 65-year career in cardiology, Wilson has researched a wide variety of new cardiac imaging techniques, ranging from the very first nuclear imaging studies in the 1960s to fractional flow reserve with computed tomography (FFR-CT) today. Summing up his years as a clinician and a researcher, as well as a founding member of both the Society of Nuclear Cardiology (ASNC) and the Society of Cardiovascular Computed Tomography (SCCT), the 92-year-old says wryly, “I just like to look at pictures, and I like to do new things when they come along.”
After serving as an officer in the Army during World War II and then as attaché to the press officer at the Nuremberg Trials, Wilson graduated from West Virginia University in 1949 and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 1953—when the electrocardiogram (ECG) was still the most advanced diagnostic test available to cardiologists. “We didn’t have coronary angiography,” he says. “We didn’t have echo, nuclear or CT.” Wilson joined the University of Oklahoma as a professor of cardiology, with secondary appointments in radiology and psychiatry. In 1964, he was drawn into the then-nascent field of nuclear imaging, which offered doctors the ability to see the heart in unprecedented detail. Research, he says, appealed to his desire to “keep doing something new and different,” and from then on, he always incorporated research projects into his career alongside his clinical practice. “I never took time off to do just one or the other. I always did both at the same time,” he says.
In 2005, Wilson’s search for the next exciting development in cardiology led him to the growing field of cardiovascular computed tomography (CCT). CT scanners were just beginning to develop the ability to image the heart despite its constant motion, and Wilson saw this new technology’s potential to benefit patients. “CCT turned out to be an exciting and comprehensive new clinical activity with great potential to improve patient care, and to be intellectually consuming,” he says. Soon, Wilson began communicating by email with other doctors who were investigating and using this new technology. Together, they founded SCCT to further promote the practice of CCT and train medical professionals in its use. Wilson has attended every SCCT Annual Scientific Meeting since the society’s founding — most recently, he traveled to Ireland to attend SCCT Winter|2019: Dublin. In addition, he has invited several SCCT members to speak at an annual cardiac imaging lecture at Kaleida Health in Buffalo, NY, known as the Mike Wilson Distinguished Lectureship. He’s gratified by the way CCT has grown since he first entered the field. “I was the first cardiologist to do CCT in Buffalo,” he says, “[and] we now have several cardiologists and one radiologist involved in daily interpretations at Kaleida Health Hospitals.”
Today, Wilson is the medical director of imaging at Kaleida Health. In addition to treating patients, he is collaborating with researchers in Buffalo, Canada and Japan to develop new methods of measuring fractional flow reserve (FFR) using computed tomography, patient-specific 3D phantoms and mathematical computational fluid dynamics simulations. His goal is to deliver results just as accurate as an invasive FFR test and faster than the FFR-CT tests currently on the market: “We can get it done in the same half day, so the patient can be taken care of if need be that same day.”
After 65 years in medicine and research, Wilson thinks that his work helps his health as much as his patients’. “I work with all these other bright people, both men and women, which is super fun,” he says. “It keeps the mind young and intellectually stimulated.” Looking back, he’s more than happy with his all-in approach to research, medicine, and life. He sums up his practical philosophy as, “Always engage in whatever you’re doing with great enthusiasm and intelligence.”