Rocker-Turned-Researcher Adrian Grimes Puts Heart Into His Work
Supporting Heart Research
Watch an interview and see Adrian Grimes perform "Best of My Heart" on WKOW-TV
When Dr. Adrian Grimes credits the Spice Girls for inspiring his research career, he’s only half joking.
Grimes once stood behind a microphone, playing in a rock ’n’ roll band. Now you’ll find him behind a microscope, working as a research associate in the lab of Dr. J. Carter Ralphe, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.
How exactly does one make the transition from rocker to researcher? Well, that’s where the Spice Girls come in.
Grimes, who was born in England and grew up in East Africa, left school at age 17 to pursue a career as a rock star. After a promising tour of the U.S. East Coast in the early 1980s, he returned to England, assuming that fame and fortune would be waiting. But while the band did land recording contracts and distribution deals with major labels, it never quite broke through.
“We had critical fame and commercial failure,” Grimes joked.
As the 1990s dawned, Grimes said the music industry began to shift away from the straight-ahead rock he was playing toward synthesizer-driven pop. The band fell apart during the mid-1990s, but Grimes had a fallback plan. He was earning his bachelor’s degree, and it turned out that he had a knack for science. He went on to earn a master’s degree in applied fish biology from the University of Plymouth in England and a PhD from the Medical University of South Carolina. He conducted his thesis research at Duke University, studying heart development in zebrafish.
After postdoctoral research in Spain, Grimes came to Madison to work in Ralphe’s lab in the Department of Pediatrics. His current research focuses on familial hypertrophic cardiomyopathy - an inherited condition marked by abnormal growth of the left ventricle - and engineered cardiac tissue.
An exciting aspect of the lab’s research involves the potential use of induced pluripotent stem cells to create cardiac cells from skin cells. The engineered cells could be used to repair diseased hearts.
Grimes, who has been with the Ralphe lab for about two years, said when he first heard about the use of induced pluripotent stem cells to build cardiac tissue, it sounded like something out of “Star Trek.” “But it really does work, and I think it’s the way of the future,” he said.
Using His Musical Talents to Give Back
Though Grimes spends most of his time in a lab, he hasn’t left his musical roots behind. Much of his research has been supported by the American Heart Association, so as a way of giving back, he recorded a song titled, fittingly, “The Best of My Heart.” He plans to donate 50 cents of each download of the song to the American Heart Association. The song can be downloaded from iTunes or Amazon for 99 cents.
Video: Watch Adrian Grimes perform "Best of My Heart" on WKOW-TV
He has been appreciative of the American Heart Association’s outreach and advocacy efforts to build awareness of heart disease. In that way, Grimes thinks of science as a performance art. While he enjoys the work done at the bench, his favorite aspect of research is communicating findings to the masses.
“The thing that I really like isn’t necessarily the collecting of data, it’s when you have the eureka moment, and then you go and tell someone,” he said. “I want to take that eureka moment and then tell the world.”
Date Published: 02/14/2013