CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Gillian Bryant-Greenwood poses with her son, Peter Bryant-Greenwood, and his wife, Bianca Bryant-Greenwood, at the John A. Burns School of Medicine in Kakaako.
Isles' lure charmed researching pair
The family has helped shape a successful UH science program
Two British molecular endocrinologists were able to influence generations of medical students in Hawaii when they decided to flee London's traffic in 1968.
"We agreed we were both fed up with the traffic situation, and Hawaii was beckoning," said Gillian Bryant-Greenwood, then a student at the University of London's Imperial Cancer Research Fund. Her husband, the late Frederick Greenwood, ran the protein chemistry section.
He had been nominated for a Nobel Prize in 1968 for his work in developing the first method for measuring hormones and other substances in the blood "and as a team, we could have gone almost anywhere," Bryant-Greenwood said.
They chose Hawaii, she said, "because we thought there were a lot of opportunities, a chance to explore new things and really move forward. I think it was the pioneering spirit that brought us here."
"She wanted to learn hula," joked her son, Dr. Peter Bryant-Greenwood, assistant professor of pathology in the Department of Pathology, Clinical Research Center, John A. Burns School of Medicine. He recently was named interim director of the department, succeeding Dr. John Hardman who died May 17.
Frederick Greenwood joined the University of Hawaii-Manoa as a professor of biochemistry and directed the Pacific Biomedical Research Center for 27 years. He developed it into an internationally recognized institution and was credited with spinning off the medical school and Cancer Research Center.
Gillian Bryant-Greenwood became a postdoctoral research fellow in the biochemistry department upon arrival here and is now professor of molecular endocrinology in the biomedical research center and medical school. She is renowned internationally for her research on the physiology of reproductive hormones, trying to understand reasons for preterm birth.
She is on sabbatical for six months organizing and fundraising for an international conference on Relaxin (a hormone involved in child birth) and related peptides in May 2008 on Maui.
Peter Bryant-Greenwood said his father, who died Aug. 8, 2000, and Hardman were his mentors: "It wasn't just about teaching people the material. It was about getting someone to believe in their own heart they could really do it, no matter what that thing is, whether it's pathology, going into surgery or whatever."
Peter's wife, Bianca, just graduated from the UH medical school and is spending a year in general surgery. Both have benefited from institutions and programs established by his father, including the Research Centers in Minority Institutions Program and Clinical Research Program, Peter said.
Added his mother: "Fred got UH designated as a minority institution and that gave us the right to apply for large pots of institutional money ... to really build up biomedical research. Over a 10-year period when things were really bad ... and UH was hurting, it held biomedical research together at UH."
She heads a research group that has been funded continuously by the National Institutes of Health since 1972. "Not many people are funded nationally that long," she said. "I'm really lucky it has gone that well and is going that well." She uses the funds to mentor junior faculty, helping them to become independent researchers.
As part of an NIH national group that reviews research grants in pregnancy and neonatology, she said, "I can judge pretty well how good our work is, and it is always nice to feel, even though we're in the middle of the Pacific, our work is as good as any."
"She is being humble," her son said. "She is an internationally recognized expert in the field of preterm births."
Initially, he said he "did everything in my power to avoid the gravitational pull of biomedical science." He went to Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service after graduating from Iolani, intending to be "a cold warrior," then the cold war ended.
Seeking to do something creative, he turned to biomedical research, going to the UH medical school, then to the NIH for his residency. He has been doing research three years at the UH medical school as part of a large grant to the obstetrical/gynecological department chair but now has to apply for his own grant, he said.
He also earned a master's degree in business administration from Johns Hopkins University and is interested in "translational research -- getting something from the laboratory into the marketplace ... that's going to help somebody."
So while his mother is trying to understand Relaxin and other reproductive hormones, he and his collaborators are trying to develop a blood test to detect women at risk for early labor.
Identifying and treating women who would deliver prematurely would save billions of dollars and long-term health care and family costs to care for a child with neurological defects or behavioral problems, Gillian Bryant-Greenwood said. "That is major -- what we are trying to do something about."
Bianca, from Maui, took a circuitous route to her medical career, starting as a travel industry major at UH-Manoa, returning to Maui to the community college nursing program, going to the University of Maryland for undergraduate studies, then to the MCP Hannemann School of Medicine in Philadelphia. She and Peter had married in 2000 and spent several years commuting between Maryland and Philadelphia until he got a job at UH in 2003 and she transferred to the UH medical school.
She said she likes caring for patients and making them feel better. At the time she was interviewed, she had been on call since 5 a.m. the previous day at the Queen's Medical Center. Nearly 24 hours later, at 2 a.m., she said, "The pager was going off. I was dead tired. I hadn't eaten dinner and was very very happy. I finally got to do what I wanted to do."
For his part, Peter said, "I love working with these family members who are also my colleagues."
The family's nonscientist, his sister Kate, has been in the University of Washington's master's program in public policy and will study environmental law at UH in the fall. She became interested in management of the environment during a summer job as a firefighter for the Bureau of Land Management, Peter said. "Her mission is to be an advocate for the natural species."
Gillian Bryant-Greenwood said she and her husband had dreamed that their children would return to Hawaii "well educated, contributing and doing things they wanted to do. That is an added blessing."