Science is all about asking questions, but the answers scientists find often lead to still more questions. That's what Daniel Vinson has been discovering on a quest he's pursued for more than a decade.
Another researcher's study of heart attacks gave Vinson the idea to take a fresh look into the relationship between alcohol abuse and accidental injuries. Working with the often surprising data from that study, he came up with some equally thought-provoking findings on an entirely different subject: the physical hazards of a hostile attitude.
"Every well-done study will generate at least two more questions," says Vinson. "What we've done is intriguing. It's provocative, I hope, provoking people to do more research."
Vinson, 57, is an MU professor of family and community medicine. He's a wiry man, an avid cyclist with a gray beard and a wry sense of humor. The son of a small-town general practitioner in North Carolina, Vinson didn't seem destined to follow in his father's footsteps. He started as a physics major at Davidson College. But a year of study in Germany got him off that track and he turned to doctoring instead.
After medical school and residency at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Vinson practiced family medicine for about 10 years in Banner Elk, a small town in western North Carolina. It was a satisfying life, but Vinson wanted more.
"It took me a while to realize I really enjoy the teaching and research, although I'd miss the clinical side if I didn't do it," he says.
In 1988, he came to MU for an academic family medicine fellowship and then joined the faculty in 1990. Vinson's current research quest was triggered in December 1993, when two articles in the New England Journal of Medicine addressed an issue that interested him keenly: Does exercise prevent or provoke heart attacks?
The researchers had interviewed patients who were hospitalized for heart attacks and a control group of patients who were in the hospital for other reasons. They asked the patients about their usual exercise habits and whether they had exercised in the hours just before their heart attack and 24 hours earlier.
The researchers found that an episode of exercise more than doubled the risk of a heart attack for people who exercised regularly, but it increased the risk more than 100-fold for those who exercised less than once a week. Vinson saw that the strategy these investigators used -- interviewing patients shortly after a well-defined medical event -- worked well for measuring risks associated with intermittent exposure to potential hazards. "Then a light bulb went off in my head,'' he says. "Alcohol and injury."
Published by the Office of Research.
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