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Catching the Southern California vibe

Dr. Geoffrey Abbott
Paul Kennedy
Dr. Geoffrey Abbott: Things are going well since he arrived at UC Irvine.

Research potential and lifestyle changes add up to a plus for new vice chair Geoffrey Abbott

Pharmacology professor Geoffrey Abbott and his wife Bo have a little joke: “Every morning we get up and say, ’Great weather today.’”

It’s the kind of humor that can only be appreciated by someone who grew up in England, then spent 14 years in the Northeastern United States – first in postdoctoral training at Yale University and then on the faculty at Cornell University, Weill Medical College – places where the weather has a habit of doing exactly what you least expect.

Abbott, who joined the UC Irvine Department of Pharmacology faculty last year, says he smiles a lot more now. “The weather is just so awesome here. I go body boarding. I hike, I swim, I go to the beach almost every weekend.”

The weather isn’t the only thing about UC Irvine that’s making Abbott smile.  His research is progressing well.  “Things have moved much more quickly than I expected.”

Abbott, vice chair of the department, studies biological electrical activity, with a particular focus on cardiac physiology and arrhythmias. When he exchanged the Ivy League halls of Cornell for the sun-washed UC Irvine campus, he received set-up funds that allowed him to purchase cutting-edge equipment for his lab. “It’s made a big difference, allowing me to branch out into new avenues of investigation and harness state-of-the-art technologies to achieve my research goals.”

Abbott’s research focuses on ion channels and transporters. These cell membrane proteins control the movement of charged ions essential for the heartbeat, skeletal muscle contraction, brain activity and processes including gastric acid secretion and even hormone synthesis.  Disruptions of these proteins causes pathologies including sudden cardiac death, epilepsy and hormonal imbalance. 

 “Within the School of Medicine at UC Irvine there are world-leaders in ion channel research, and within the Pharmacology Department itself there is a strong focus on membrane protein signaling. Given these strengths and the other resources that were on offer, in the end it was an easy decision for my wife Bo and I to move across the country and start afresh,” he says. 

“It’s a really good fit for me here scientifically, and my family loves it. My three-year-old son is an East-coaster, born in Manhattan, but my daughter is a West-coaster – she was born at UC Irvine Medical Center in January. For young children, the environment in and around the campus and housing is second to none. 

“And UC Irvine came out on top in the USA, and fourth worldwide, in the most recent Times of London ranking of universities under 50 years old.  The energy at this relatively young university is palpable.”

Abbott’s lab uses a multidisciplinary approach that is ultimately aimed at developing “therapies for a wide spectrum of ‘channelopathies’ - human diseases arising from ion channel dysfunction," he says.

“These are highly complex disorders, so upon moving here I decided to start using transcriptomics, with which one can analyze every one of the roughly 25,000 genes in the genome at once, to better understand what is going on. The pace of discovery in our lab has accelerated, and with this comes exciting new directions we would have never previously considered exploring. ”

He enjoyed the 10 years he spent at Cornell. “It’s a wonderful place, and I was fortunate to establish some long-term friendships there, and also scientific collaborations that are very much ongoing and highly successful. But at UC Irvine I have been able to establish a better work-life balance. Instead of a long commute, I live 10 minutes’ walk from my lab and office. I still work long hours, but I don’t compromise my family life.“ 

And on the weekend, there’s always the beach.