Lifestyle

Dr Sam Prince's visions for a better world

THERE'S something very calm and melodic about the way Dr Sam Prince speaks. A quiet air of authority, polite and humble, but sharp.

It's easy to forget the young doctor, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and visionary was a Monash University med student madly scribbling down notes during his lunch break as a hospital intern eight years ago.

At just 30 years old, Dr Prince has achieved more than most of us could hope to in a lifetime. And the list keeps growing.

Simple white letters on the glass door to his office, high up in a Circular Quay building overlooking the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House, do little to portray the enormity of the projects they represent.

Office of Dr Sam Prince. Zambrero. One Disease. Mejico. Life Letters.

Dr Prince was 21 and in the final throes of med school, interning 80 hours per week, when he gave birth to his first "child', quick-serve Mexican health food restaurant Zambrero.

But Zambrero isn't your ordinary, run of the mill, Mexican joint. Under its Plate 4 Plate initiative, every burrito or bowl sold buys a meal for the hungry in developing countries through the restaurant's distribution partner Stop Hunger Now, which delivers meals across 65 countries.

So far, more than 3.4 million meals have been donated since the first store opened in Canberra in 2005, making Zambrero more of a charity that dabbles in business than a business that does some charity on the side.

The success of Zambrero, which was recognised as the fastest growing food franchise in 2013 by BRW magazine and earnt Dr Prince the title of 'Best Young Gun in Business' at the national My Business awards, prompted him to open Mejico, a market-to-table Mexican restaurant in the heart of Sydney in 2013.

Profits from Zambrero, which now has 60 stores across Australia, help to breathe life into the doctor's other "children" such as the non-profit initiative One Disease at a Time.

One Disease was launched in 2010 with the aim of just that - eliminating one disease at a time from indigenous Australian communities, starting with scabies. Already, the initiative has led to an 86% reduction in crusted scabies - the most severe form of scabies.

"We were able to pull a disease out of obscurity called crusted scabies, which is the worst variant, describe it properly and treat it well, create the first disease registry of scabies across the world and move to reducing crusted scabies significantly," Dr Prince said.

As impressive as wiping out an entire disease is, it pales in comparison to Dr Prince's latest project, which will "revolutionise" the way patients interact with their own genetics and the way doctors treat patients.

Life Letters, to be launched early next year, will map and give patients access to their own genome sequence. The title of the project is derived from the four letters, c, a, g, t that make up our DNA.

"This is huge," Dr Prince says, unable to hold back a smile. "It's almost like being a computer engineer or an engineer in electronics at the time of the PC revolution, it's fantastic.

"Doctors will actually understand patients down to their last letter."

Dr Prince said the application of Life Letters would be two-fold. Patients would be able to map their genomes to find out what diseases they may be at higher risk of developing, or what recessive genes they may be carrying if they're considering having children.

The other application would allow doctors to pick the right drug for patients based on their genetics, rather than "playing the percentage tennis" based on pharmaceutical drug trials. As technology and medicine advances, so too will the potential applications for Life Letters.

Dr Prince said Life Letter products would be financially accessible to most people, with a special aid branch of the organisation offering free services to those less fortunate.

This humanitarian branch will offer free genetic mapping and analysis to existing aid organisations such as One Disease, MSF or Red Cross, which could be used to understand, for example, why some people develop crusted scabies and others don't, and treat patients accordingly.

Despite his countless achievements and awards - ACT Young Australian of the Year, Junior Chambers International

Outstanding Young Person of the World, Canberra Business Council Excellence Award - Dr Sam Prince comes across as a modest man.

What sets him apart from the average Joe, perhaps, is an extraordinary vision, motivation and unwavering self-belief.

"For me, I kind of have these flickering visions of where the organisation could be in a period of time and myself as a human, where I see myself, and that vision really is the guiding light," he said.

"In times when life is kind of loping along and you're moving sideways and caught up in a business, for me I remind myself of the vision."

That's not to say his journey has been an easy one, or that he doesn't have faults.

"We could sit here and do A to C today, and maybe get half way through D," he says, when asked about his weaknesses.

But for him, faults and failures are something you learn from, something that sharpens the senses.

He quotes Andrew Solomon: "If you banish the dragons, you banish the heroes."

Dr Prince's family is also a big source of inspiration.

His mother Thilaka is from a modest rural village in Sri Lanka, and after topping her final exams earnt herself a scholarship to study overseas, which would culminate in five degrees, including a doctorate.

"My family were migrants and there was a baton of kindness passed to them by getting a free education in a developing world and then moving into Australia," Dr Prince said.

"I think that baton was passed to me, in this government and in this country we've always lived free, we've always been safe, and these are liberties not afforded by everyone in the world."

Dr Prince is certainly proof that not all of Gen Y are the lazy, selfish and ungrateful generation many claim them to be.

As a med student, he said he could remember reading a poster on a pediatrician's wall that said the current generation of children were lazy, don't have values, lacked respect for their elders, were impatient and unwilling and refused to work for what they wanted.

"It was written, the actual caption, in 476BC," Dr Prince said.

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