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Doctorate pursuit is from the heart

Science appears to be the language of love in the Greene household, and that passion has been stoked by a research partnership between Niagara University and the Heart Center of Niagara.

Robert Greene is the head of the biology department at Niagara University, where his son Michael recently graduated with a degree in the same field. Greene's other son, Christopher, a former Marine, has gone back to school at Niagara -- to study biology, of course.

But the happy family will soon experience a change, as Michael Greene begins a doctoral program at Boston University's School of Medicine this fall. For the next five to seven years, he will study pathology and laboratory medicine.

The 22-year-old said he has been inspired by the genetic research he has done at the Heart Center of Niagara for the last two years and the stories of patients who have gotten well.

Robert Greene said that more than 30 Niagara University students have been able to do research at the Heart Center under the Academic Center for Integral Sciences program, which he described as a "graduate level experience for undergraduates" due to the topic and close-knit nature of the university.

The students have studied samples from more than 600 patients to find out how the extraordinarily high incidence of coronary heart disease in Western New York is related to environment, genetics, proteins, psychology and metabolic factors.

Michael Greene has continued his research this summer into the genetic components of cardiovascular disease. He recently spoke with The Buffalo News.

>Did your father have anything to do with your interest in science?

I remember going to the Science Museum every weekend as a kid. I would also go with him to Roswell Park Cancer Institute [where his father is a research scientist] and just look at all the stuff in the lab. I played sports in high school and got interested in the muscle groups and read about strength and muscle building.

After a year in criminal justice at Niagara University, I chose biology. That really opened the floodgate, and I really enjoyed genetics classes.

>What has the independent study at the Heart Center of Niagara done for your education and career choice?

To be able to apply that hands-on research was what sparked my interest in pursuing a doctorate. It's a very important link between the lab research and the patients. That led me to choose pathology.

>Do you think the internship helped you get accepted to Boston University?

I applied to seven schools, including a Harvard/Massachusetts Institute of Technology program and the University at Rochester, and I got accepted to all of them. At Boston, they told me they liked to see that I could take the lab work and apply it to the clinical setting.

>How does it feel to work so closely to patients as you're doing research?

Having the bigger problem to look at motivates you, especially when it deals with patients with life-threatening disease. It's more than a 9 a.m.-to-5 p.m. job. Each patient's chart is a story and hopefully shows how they improve over time and the disease becomes less burdensome.

>Tell me about your research.

We used patient blood samples to measure the gene expression at the time of positron emission tomography scan (a noninvasive machine that can measure blood flow and detect blockages). So we have a clinical diagnosis from the doctor at the same time we get a snapshot [of the genes], and that's a pretty powerful statement.

We found a gene that appears to be in patients with coronary disease when the ratio of the two forms is elevated. We can use that information to monitor the disease, its progression and response to therapy. It can also indicate what else is going on. To detect this gene could mean more efficient and earlier diagnosis.

>Do you think you'll return to the area?

I would like to come back to the area if the opportunity arises. I would jump on it in a heart beat.

e-mail: gfranklin@buffnews.com

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