Steven E. Mansoor, M.D., Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Medicine, School of Medicine and OHSU Knight Cardiovascular Institute and investigator in the Vollum Institute
Mansoor spends 20 percent of his time caring for patients and the other 80 percent in the lab studying the molecular structure and function of purinergic receptors that could lead to more effective drugs for treatment of cardiovascular disease. He is a 2009 graduate of the M.D./Ph.D. program at the OHSU School of Medicine.
What keeps you going?
I love the feeling of getting new results. Some of the best moments in my research career have been late at night after staying to analyze results from the day’s experiments. It is exciting to leave lab knowing that I am the only person in the world who is aware of a promising new finding. The flip side of that coin is the dejection that comes with a failed experiment. Early in my graduate school career, science felt like a bit of a rollercoaster ride and I had to learn to temper the highs and the lows. My Ph.D. mentor, David Farrens, once said to me, “Science is a marathon, not a sprint.” I always try to keep that advice in mind.
I recently published a paper in Nature under the mentorship of Eric Gouaux, Ph.D. That manuscript was the culmination of more than three years of work. Seeing that manuscript in print provides me with the motivation to keep moving forward. Scientific research requires a lot of delayed gratification. Clinical work, on the other hand, often provides immediate reward. Patients can improve quickly, sometimes instantaneously, following a procedure. I have come to really appreciate the balance between bench research and patient care.
What inspired you to pursue science and medicine?
It all started with my mother. She was a very scientifically-minded person who wanted to be a physician. She trained at OHSU to be a lab technician but eventually gave up her career to raise me and my five siblings. She always encouraged us to take an interest in math, science and the helping professions. It worked – three of us attended the OHSU School of Medicine and four us now work for OHSU. David is an assistant professor of Psychiatry, Lori is a therapist at the Avel Gordly Center for Healing and Andre is an assistant professor of Medicine.
With my mom’s encouragement, I got interested in math and physics in high school, and that led me to choose Reed College for my undergraduate degree. I was fascinated by the fact that Reed had a student-led nuclear reactor! My biophysics professor at Reed encouraged me to apply to the M.D./Ph.D program at OHSU.
Why should people care about purinergic (P2X) receptors?
P2X receptors are ion channels that play fundamental functional roles in the cardiovascular system and are a potential therapeutic target. By understanding the structure of these protein receptors, we can develop a more potent generation of drugs for addressing a variety of cardiovascular conditions, from angina to high blood pressure to early formation of blood clots.
Medicines work best when they only bind to the intended target receptor in the body. Sometimes drugs bind to many different receptors – unintended targets -- and that’s what causes side effects. Our goal is to pave the way for drugs that only target the desired receptor. That will mean better results and fewer side effects.
What role does philanthropy play in funding your research?
I spend a lot of time writing grants. If there’s not adequate grant funding, the work significantly slows down or sometimes even stops. The tricky part is, to qualify for NIH funding (National Institutes of Health), one must already have good preliminary data. So how does that get funded? That’s where philanthropy comes in. Philanthropic dollars are crucial for funding new ideas that will eventually qualify for NIH funding.