Dr. Rolf Andersen and his son, Lars, followed similar paths that eventually – but not surprisingly – led to medicine.
Both Andersens grew up with a physician-father who loved his job but did NOT pressure them to follow in his footsteps. They ended up in the same place: researching familial hypercholesterolemia, a common genetic disorder that is often undiagnosed, with deadly consequences.
Dr. Andersen, a cardiologist for 27 years, practices at The Heart Group of Lancaster General Health. Lars, a 2015 graduate of Brown University, is a research assistant at the LG Health Research Institute.
“I’m the clinical guy, and Lars is the genetic science guy,” Dr. Andersen said. “It’s a great combination.”
Dr. Andersen’s father, Leon, was a cardiologist who worked out of their New York City home. Leon Andersen fled the Nazi occupation of Norway as a young teenager and later retired to Lancaster, where he helped place AEDs in local police departments.
“My dad loved being a doctor,” said Dr. Andersen, who originally considered a career in biochemistry. “When you see your dad that excited to go to work for so many years, it’s natural to think that medicine would be a good fit for you too.”
Like his father and brother, William, Dr. Andersen graduated from Harvard University and Columbia University Medical School, and completed his residency in New York City. Dr. William Andersen founded the Lancaster Skin Center, where Lars previously worked as a summer intern.
Lars is named for his grandfather’s grandfather, with whom he shares a birthday. While Lars’ grandfather always encouraged him to go into medicine, his father took a different approach.
“My grandfather told me from a young age that it’s a privilege to be a physician, and there’s nothing else like it,” Lars said. “My dad always told me you have to make your own decisions.”
Dr. Andersen recalls that Lars showed an interest in medicine from an early age, looking things up and listening intently to his dad’s stories about work. Despite the prevalence of medicine in the family, Dr. Andersen was determined not to pressure his son.
Lars wasn’t sure he wanted to study medicine until midway through his time at Brown, where he majored in history. He plans to apply to medical schools – including Columbia -- for 2017 admission. He is undecided on a specialty, but given the family history, cardiology is a strong contender.
While working at the research institute, Lars was surprised to learn that FH is the world’s most common potentially deadly genetic disorder. It immediately captured his interest.
“I read that and thought it couldn’t be right,” he said. “FH is at the intersection of a lot of things I’m interested in: epidemiology, genetics and personalized medicine.”
The Andersens’ main research goal is to find ways to identify patients early and treat them more effectively. Their complementary expertise – Dr. Andersen in clinical treatment of lipid disorders and Lars in genetics – makes them a strong research team, Lars said.
“Our two different perspectives have led to a lot of our success,” he said. “I’m very happy with what we’re able to accomplish together.”
Dr. Rolf Andersen (left) and his son, Lars, receive awards at the recent National Lipid Association Conference.
Father and son have written five abstracts, two correspondence and an editorial in a national journal. They just returned from the National Lipid Association Conference, where Dr. Andersen was inducted as a fellow and Lars, the conference’s youngest attendee, placed third for the young investigator award.
“I can’t think of anything greater for a father than to work with his son and to see what tremendous work he does,” Dr. Andersen said. “There are few things that are better in this world.”
Outside the office, father and son share a passion for history and skiing. And they enjoy their research so much, they often discuss it in their off-hours too.
"It sort of becomes all-consuming,” Dr. Andersen said. “At home we’re still talking about cholesterol and genetics, and my wife says, ‘Can’t we talk about something else?"