Patient Story

Saint Luke’s Innovation Week Profile: Dr. Randall Thompson


"As physicians, we have such a great opportunity to make a difference in people's lives, to help relieve human suffering and help our fellow man."

When Dr. Randall Thompson began his medical career 41 years ago, he never could have imagined that his work as a cardiologist would take him deep into the jungles of Bolivia to study primitive tribes or through the pyramids in Egypt in his quest to discover the origins of heart disease.

Growing up in a family of lawyers, Dr. Thompson knew early on that he wanted to forge his own path and pursue medicine. He attended Emory University in Atlanta for undergraduate and medical school before moving to Boston for his residency and cardiology fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital.

A cardiologist specializing in cardiac imaging at Saint Luke's Mid America Heart Institute, Dr. Thompson currently serves as the President of the American Society of Nuclear Cardiology, and Chair of the Coding Task Force for the American College of Cardiology.

It was a trip with colleagues through the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo and a conversation about a mummy's diagnosis of atherosclerosis, or heart disease, that triggered a curiosity in Thompson as to how prevalent was heart disease, thought to be a modern affliction, in the ancient world.

That question led Dr. Thompson and his colleagues to propose research to systematically search for signs of heart disease in ancient mummies.

Since no book existed on how to read a CT scan of a mummy, the team relied heavily on anatomy books and intuition, utilizing computerized tomography (CT) scans to identify calcified plaque in the preserved bones. Recognized as an international expert on mummies and heart disease, Dr. Thompson has now studied over 100 mummies from six continents.

"We are taking a 21st-century instrument and looking across the ages to make a diagnosis of health and disease in people that lived over 3000 years ago. They generally would have had more exercise than we do and didn't eat as rich of a diet as we eat. It makes us wonder whether there could be a missing risk factor or perhaps something about ancient times was more stressful and caused more aging of the body."

Dr. Thompson is proudest of his work reducing radiation exposure for patients during cardiovascular imaging. His research has taught him perseverance and the importance of enthusiasm in the face of unexpected obstacles.

"As physicians, we have such a great opportunity to make a difference in people's lives, to help relieve human suffering and help our fellow man."

Join us for more ground-breaking research stories this week during #SaintLukesInnovationWeek#ThePowerOfResearch