Physiologist Drew MacCannell benefits from eclectic interests

January 10, 2012  |   |  Comments
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Keith Andrew MacCannell in research lab

Drew MacCannell

If variety is the spice of life, then Keith Andrew “Drew” MacCannell is a hot commodity in the world of science.

The John A. Burns School of Medicine post doctoral researcher possesses an unusual array of expertise, ranging from mathematics to astrophysics to cardiovascular physiology, to complement his unusual and eclectic personal interests.

MacCannell’s academic background helped him land an American Heart Association postdoctoral two-year fellowship grant to develop a greater understanding of the changes that occur in the heart when it is deprived of oxygen. He will use his mathematical prowess to develop methods to predict what genetic changes occur in the heart when oxygen is restricted and how different treatments affect those genetic responses.

“When the heart is deprived of oxygen, for example when a heart attack strikes, specific genes are activated in the heart that elicit a series of helpful responses,” MacCannell explains. “Some of those responses include the enlargement of major blood vessels and the formation of more capillaries. The heart’s metabolism also changes to reduce the need for oxygen. My goal is to develop a mathematical model of how those various responses occur.”

Such a model could help identify drugs to control heart attack damage and predict their side effects. Improved understanding of the behavior of the heart when oxygen supply is curtailed could also contribute to better diagnostic tools and treatment protocols, he added.

MacCannell, who holds dual American and Canadian citizenship, attributes his broad scientific interests to his father, Keith, a gastroenterologist who founded the Calgary Science Center and chaired the Alberta Heart and Stroke Foundation, and to his college mentors.

He was a biology major at Bishop’s University in Quebec when an opportunity to work as a research associate for his physics professor led to a BS in astrophysics with minors in biology and mathematics. Then an invitation to apply his mathematics and computer modeling skills in a University of Calgary Department of Physiology and Biophysics project on cellular communication led him into a PhD program in cardiovascular physiology.

MacCannell joined the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa faculty to work in Ralph Shohet’s laboratory in JABSOM’s Center for Carciovascular Research.

In his spare time, MacCannell dabbles in photography, a skill learned from his mother, who is a professional. He enjoys stargazing and hiking and is a seventh-generation disciple of Bak Mei kung fu.

“I also play the bagpipes, but finding practice space in Honolulu makes it a difficult hobby to pursue,” MacCannell adds with a grin.

Reprinted with permission from the American Heart Association newsletter Puʻuwai

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