In this section, we highlight the human side of biomedical investigation, putting a few questions to a researcher at DMS-DHMC.
Craig Tomlinson, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Medicine
Tomlinson studies the molecular aspects of adult-onset cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity.
Can you describe your research?
We study how the AHR—aryl hydrocarbon receptor—is activated by environmental toxicants on a molecular level. Each cell in our body has an AHR signaling system that binds, metabolizes, and helps detoxify harmful agents. We've found that AHR, when activated by certain environmental toxicants, is involved in obesity and atherosclerosis. We're also interested in how toxicant-activated AHR affects a fetus in utero.
How did you become interested in this field?
I've always been interested in molecular biology. I have never been much of a naturalist and wouldn't know the difference between an oak tree and a maple tree. But molecular biology has always fascinated me. There has been a great breakthrough from sequencing the human genome; it has helped us understand how genes are expressed and how genes differ among populations. This has had a huge impact on our understanding of medicine, therapeutic treatments, and drug reactions.
Who is your fictional hero?
Adam Dalgliesh in the mysteries by P.D. James.
And your hero in real life?
Abraham Lincoln. I grew up in central Illinois, where Lincoln first made a name for himself. He made some tremendous, hard decisions through much personal as well as political strife. He had a wonderful sense of humor, too, and could tell great stories as well.
Where do you do your best thinking?
In front of the computer, usually. But good ideas also come to me in the shower, when the water is beating on my head.
If you could live in any time period, when would it be?
Living in the past is often romanticized, but I don't think I want to go back to a previous era. Life was much harder in the past, and people are softer now. Disease, for example, was more rampant; now we can vaccinate against, fight, and cure many diseases. So I'd choose the present. Or the future—I'd like to see what our knowledge base will be hundreds of years from now.
What was your first paying job?
I grew up on a farm and worked for my parents and grandparents baling hay and chopping weeds.
If you weren't a scientist what would you like to be?
A bookstore owner, because I could sit around and read books all day and not feel guilty—it would be a part of my job description. My second choice would be a geologist. It is interesting to me how tectonic plates float and move.
What bores you?
Television—it is so bad. Repetitious meetings, too.
What music do you listen to most?
Jazz and classical. My wife and I used to go to jazz festivals in New Orleans every year. We were there for the 100th anniversary of Louis Armstrong's birth, and they played a lot of his songs. He's my favorite trumpet player; his playing gives me goose bumps. I like some rock 'n' roll, too.
What do you think makes for a successful scientist?
Perseverance, good ideas, and some good luck. Working hard and loving what you do are important, too. Most of the things you discover, you discover not by design but because you sort of trip over them. And you have to be able to recognize it when you trip over something good.
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