|February 18, 2000||Volume 7, Number 11|
Harvard-bound pharmacology grad studying diabetes
By Ann Dumonceaux
Recent PhD graduate Rob Hopfner knows what it means to be invited to join one of the worlds most prestigious team of medical researchers it means people are taking note of the University of Saskatchewans continued success training graduate students for competition in world markets.
Now beginning a post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School in Boston, the 27-year-old Hopfner has nothing but praise for his experiences as a pharmacology student in the College of Medicine.
"I think I got out of this program equal or better opportunities than I could have had anywhere else," declares Hopfner.
Crediting the personal attention he received at the University of Saskatchewan as a reason for his success, Hopfner explains that the small size of the campus actually benefits its graduate students.
"Everyone was really supportive here. But in a lot of larger institutions, I think it may be hard to get that kind of support you may not even see your supervisor more than once a month."
For Hopfner, studying at the U of S was a natural choice. Born and raised in Hudson Bay, Sask., Hopfner enrolled in the College of Arts and Science immediately following high school.
After two preliminary years, he transferred to pharmacy, his first interest.
"Out of high school my goal was to make a living," explains Hopfner with a smile. "Pharmacy is a great profession because you start out with a good salary and theres very minimal unemployment".
A class in pharmacology however, soon changed Hopfners goals. "By fourth year I realized that I wasnt interested in dispensing pills for the rest of my life," observes Hopfner.
After graduating from Pharmacy with distinction in 1995, he applied to the College of Graduate Studies and Research in order to pursue studies in Pharmacology. Under the supervision of Dr. Gopel, he then undertook research comparing two drugs that mimic insulin, toward determining their effects on the cardiovascular system. His dissertation, entitled "Insulinomimetics and the Vascular Endothelin System" was defended in November 1999.
Hopfners research makes an important contribution to medical research, because diseases like diabetes, both Type 1 and Type 2, are treated with insulin.
Noting that insulin can promote the release of endothelin, a potent peptide known to promote vasoconstriction and atherosclerotic changes, Hopfner set out to determine how insulin might cause this release.
"What I showed was that insulin was capable of increasing receptor levels of endothelin in vitro". In vivo studies however were different. "Instead of promoting bad vascular changes," explains Hopfner, "insulin normalized vascular endothelin activity after a couple of weeks treatment in an animal model with Type 1 diabetes."
Hopfner speculates that the contrasting results between in vivo and in vitro studies may be linked to the nature of the diabetic state itself.
"Diabetes is associated with hyperglycemia, hyperlipidemia, and all kinds of vascular changes that are bad by themselves. What Im thinking is that the diabetic state itself can also alter the release and action of endothelin".
Though studies of the effects of long-term insulin use on cardiovascular function are still at the research stage, Hopfner advises against alarmist reactions, commenting that "since insulin normalizes the diabetic state, which itself can regulate endothelin release in a profound manner, the effects of insulin override anything bad that insulin might do."
Hopfner says he chose Harvard Medical School because its a fantastic opportunity for further training, particularly in the field of genomics which he describes as "technologies that are spinning off from studying the human genome and utilizing the genome for drug development or scientific study".
He also admits to considerable excitement. "The lab Im going to has the molecular aspects that I want to learn about, a world-renowned scientist wholl be my supervisor, and of course, Harvard Medical School is a great school."
Hopfner expects that his post-doctorate fellowship will lead him into an academic arena or industrial research, both of which he finds equally appealing.
For further information, visit the web site or contact email@example.com
Next issue of