February 28, 2019 / All Stories

Scientists Rock! The #1 Philadelphia Eagles fan has landed

On any given Sunday, you can find Greg Silvesti tackling both football and the future of digital health.

Greg Silvesti, head, digital health and innovation, AbbVie (right) and his dad, Carlo, at Super Bowl LII

Scientists Rock! is a monthly Q&A where we pull an AbbVie scientist out of the lab to hear what makes them tick. This month, we chat with Greg Silvesti, head, digital health and innovation, AbbVie.

A longstanding tradition of football, fandom and the Philadelphia Eagles can be traced deep within the roots of the Silvesti family tree. But a career in professional football was not in the cards for Greg Silvesti. Instead, having always been fascinated by all things science, space and otherworldly, he called an audible in his youth … changing tracks to pursue a series of potential game-winning touchdowns in the world of digital health and innovation.

Tell us the story of how you fell in love with science.

I was blown away the first time I ever went to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and sat in the planetarium. As a child, it really opened my eyes to the enormous nature of the world and to the many unknowns which exist out there. It started me down a path of always looking at bigger picture challenges and how to potentially help solve these things.

Beyond the planetarium … an exhibit titled ‘The Giant Heart’ made a huge impact. Essentially, this exhibit is a heart you can walk through to give people an idea of how it works; the walking path through it traces the blood flow through the heart and highlights the anatomy and physiology of the body (the atriums, ventricles, oxygen exchange through the lungs, etc.). As a child, it felt like the perfect combination of mysterious cave, intricate maze and ultimate playground; I got sucked in immediately and voluntarily explored it what now seems like an infinite number of times.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

A marine biologist. I was always drawn to the ocean and sea life, and 8-year old Greg had visions of working at Sea World. Much like space, I was always and am still amazed at how little we know about the sea; something like 95% is still unexplored. I was always drawn to whales (due to their sheer size), but my love of sea animals quickly grew to other intelligent life forms, such as dolphins and octopi.

I hear through the grapevine that you and your family are diehard Philadelphia Eagles football fans and have held season tickets since 1962. Can you tell us more about how all the fandom began?

It all started in 1959, when my dad, Carlo (then 9 years old) and my grandfather had an opportunity to see the Philadelphia Eagles play the Cleveland Browns at Franklin Field. By the end of the second quarter, my dad was officially hooked on both the sport, and the most amazing team ever to take the field … the Eagles!

A few years later, during the holidays, a bout of Pyelonephritis (a kidney infection) kept my dad Carlo in bed for three months during football season, sadly causing him to miss a lot of games. But Santa came through that year … surprising him with none other than two “golden” season tickets.

Since that fateful Christmas, the number of tickets has grown exponentially to four. And every year like clockwork, the fall calendar of family events is prepared in the summer, based solely on the pending Eagles schedule.

Can you tell us one of the craziest things you have ever done in the name of fandom?

The most recent: my wife and I were buying a new home last year and she was hoping to close the first weekend in February of 2018. As the fates would have it, however, this conflicted with Super Bowl weekend. She begrudgingly agreed to move our closing out one week to accommodate for my love of the game. Keep in mind, when this decision was made early in November of 2017, there were no guarantees that the Eagles would even make it to the Superbowl, or that I would even be able to land tickets. It was a little bit of planning, and a whole lotta wishful thinking and blind faith.

I also hear you collect vintage/rare Nike sneakers? Why the fascination?

It began with Michael Jordan and basketball in my youth. I grew up a Sixers fan, but the famous Spike Lee/Michael Jordan commercials hooked me on Nikes, and sneakers in general. Beyond that, I’ve always loved design, and how Nike always seemed to straddle the sports and pop culture world with the various collaborations they have with designers and sneaker boutiques around the world.

During mid-life crises, I suppose some people gravitate towards sports cars, jewelry, homes, or travel. Me, on the other hand … I gravitate toward the vintage sneakers of my youth. It also helps that Nike continues to re-release and update their classic designs. Air max 1 and dunks are my favorites.

If you could talk to the 10-year-old version of yourself, what would you tell yourself about your career?

Since my career didn’t really exist 10 years ago, my advice would be the following: try not to plan ahead too much. Instead of focusing on one particular job, focus on what gets you excited. Careers and industries evolve, so continue to evolve your experiences and skill set so you can eventually have a career dedicated to doing what stokes your passion.

If we were to ask your family what it is that you do, what would they say?

I am based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, so much of my time is spent commuting back and forth to work in Chicago, Illinois. My 5-year old would tell you that my job involves flying on an airplane to Chicago.

The rest of my family would tell you that I try to find ways to make people feel better by using sensors, mobile apps and wearables to collect data that better help develop new medicines … or allow people to understand more about their health by what their body is telling them.

What keeps you coming to work every day?

At the end of the day, it’s really two things: intellectual curiosity and the feeling that you can really shape something and ultimately help people. Digital Health is changing so fast, and there are so many factors that are pointing towards its disruption of the overall health care industry … it’s exciting to be a part of that innovation.

With Digital Health, you basically need one foot grounded in the present while the other foot is stomping ten years into the future. Currently it’s phone apps; in ten years it will most likely be all voice engagements. And that’s where the curiosity part comes into play ... to be able to deal in hypotheses, testing scenarios, various technologies and delivery approaches that can solve big picture, present day health care issues, but also impact how these approaches will be delivered in the future.

Another exciting facet of working in digital health: it is the future of health care. Anytime you can be a part of something cutting edge, how can you not be excited to go to work to question the status quo and challenge everyday norms?

In your opinion, why does science rock?

Because it’s about shaping the future of health care. The future of health care will be about delivering outcomes, and not just in the form of a molecule. The future of medicine will be about molecules combined with digital tools and interventions that allow for health care to be delivered outside of existing clinical settings and allow for patients to be healthier than what a molecule can deliver by itself. I believe in ten years ‘Digital Health’ won’t be known as digital health, it will simply be known as ‘Health Care’.

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Media inquiries

Jaquelin Finley
Email: jaquelin.finley@abbvie.com
Call: + 1 847-937-3998

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