Date: September 1, 2013
Johns Hopkins Medicine is known for employees who not only excel at their work but also raise performance standards. Many are equally dedicated to their avocations: raising show animals, creating art, music and theater, cooking, competing in sports and volunteering. This glimpse at the interests of four faculty members from the school of medicine marks the beginning of a series of occasional articles that looks at the after-hours pursuits of members of the Johns Hopkins Medicine community.
A Champion and a Pal
Studying the molecular foundation of neurodegenerative disorders can lead to some pretty long weeks in the lab. So the first chance Ted and Valina Dawson have, they head outside—with a dog.
The Dawsons—internationally recognized neuroscientists at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Cell Engineering—work to unlock the cellular mysteries behind Parkinson’s disease, stroke, trauma and other brain maladies. But when they’re not in the lab, they’re on the dog show circuit with Axel, their prize-winning Norwegian buhund.
“Our time is very structured, but in unusual ways,” says Valina Dawson, who heads the institute’s stem cell and neuroregeneration programs. “There are periods of time when we have to be very intense about work and we’re pretty much ‘on’ all the time. You can get very caught up in the work. It’s good to just have a mechanism where you can step back and say, ‘OK, it’s important, but there are other things out there.’”
When Axel earned American Kennel Club championship status this summer, Dawson couldn’t have felt more pride. But first and foremost, she says, Axel’s a pal. He’s the latest in a long line of champion Dawson buhunds. Why that particular breed? It’s known for its intelligence and friendliness as well an ability to stay fit and healthy without constant activity.
“We’re not eight-to-fivers,” she says. “So the dog we got had to be a bit flexible.”
The Rock Doc
Bill Nelson, the Marion I. Knott Director and Professor of Oncology and director of the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, can’t help but get philosophical about the time-honored relationship between scientists and music.
“A lot of people think that music is kind of satisfying to the quantitative mind,” Nelson says. “I think there is something to that.”
Nelson performed last year at a Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center benefit concert with Paul Reed Smith, one of the biggest names in rock guitar manufacturing and a Maryland native. “I had to raise my game up pretty high,” the oncologist says.
It worked. Nelson has since played several more shows with Smith and his band, including a German rock festival last June. “They’re so incredibly good. Once you hear where they’re going, they’re remarkably easy to play with,” he says.
And how would he rate his own performance?
“If you asked them,” he laughs, “I hope they’d tell you I’m the best cancer researcher they’ve ever played with.”
Canine Sports Medicine
Christine Zink directs the Department of Molecular and Comparative Pathobiology and does groundbreaking research into how HIV affects the central nervous system. When she’s not working, however, the pathology professor and veterinarian turns her attention to helping elite athlete dogs recover from injury.
“It’s fun,” says Zink, whose golden retriever and Norwich terrier are canine agility competitors. “I was going to dog shows, and people were asking me all kinds of questions about the veterinary aspects of their dogs’ performance and injuries; I’d never been taught any of that in vet school. And I soon realized that nobody knew the answers. So I started reading human and equine sports medicine texts and applied the information to dogs.”
So far, she’s written five books on the topic, with titles like Building the Canine Athlete and Jumping from A to Z. And her dogs have won more than 80 titles in athletic events ranging from agility and obedience to tracking and retrieving.
“In many ways,” Zink says, “dogs are not much different than we are. The musculoskeletal structure functions similarly, no matter what species you’re working with.”
Creativity and Heart
When radiologist Jonathan Lewin was recruited to come to Johns Hopkins, he heard that a jazz quartet in Baltimore needed a saxophonist. “I won’t tell you whether the job or the group weighed heavier in my decision to move to Baltimore,” he laughs.
His band, the Neuronal Jazz Quintet, features other local scientists and doctors and performs at neighborhood festivals and charity benefits when time permits.
Now the Martin Donner Professor and director of the Russell H. Morgan Department of Radiology and Radiological Science, Lewin has discovered a demanding schedule can benefit his musicianship.
“There have been times when I haven’t picked up the horn for a month or more,” he says. “It’s often those times when I’ve grown the most as a musician because I’m able to really listen and not play.”
Lewin says his greatest influence is the West Coast-style jazz of Gerry Mulligan. “It’s not about what your fingers can do or how many notes you can fit into a measure; it’s more about what you’re feeling. It’s doing more with fewer notes. Creativity and heart overshadow technique.”
And it offers relief from a field that demands precision. “What I love about jazz is its flexible structure,” the radiologist says. “Playing with my bandmates is fun, fulfilling and renewing.”