Outside the lab, Dr. Grandy makes lasting community connections
August 6, 2013
Call it selflessness. Or service. Or maybe it's the innate curiosity present in any researcher, but when David Grandy, Ph.D., talks about the volunteer work he's been doing for 22 years, his concern and compassion for the people served by Operation Nightwatch shines through.
"By volunteering at Operation Nightwatch, I learn about real struggles with substance abuse and other mental health issues," said Dr. Grandy, professor of physiology and pharmacology. "The trust that can develop in the hospitable environment of Operation Nightwatch has resulted in stimulating and moving conversations, galvanizing my research efforts to discover new therapeutic medications that foster mental health."
Dr. Grandy is on the Board of Directors for Operation Nightwatch, a nonprofit organization whose mission is summed up in a simple question: When the sun goes down in Portland, where do those without means go for hospitality, hope and healing?
"While other organizations focus on meeting the physical needs of those on the streets, Nightwatch is focused on the issue of social isolation," said Gary Davis, executive director of Nightwatch. "Our Hospitality Center provides a safe place – a living room for the neighborhood."
Dr. Grandy became a Nightwatch volunteer in 1991 and the next year, offered to organize an activity that has since become an annual holiday tradition. For the past 21 years, he has organized the distribution of 200 pairs of athletic stockings stuffed with practical items for low-income or homeless individuals – with a little help from Bridlemile Girl Scout troop #671.
Back in 1992, one of those Girl Scouts stocking stuffers was Madeline Grandy, Dr. Grandy's daughter, who is now enrolled in OHSU's M.D./MPH program.
"I remember thinking as a second grader, 'Why would anyone want toothpaste and socks for Christmas?,'" said Madeline Grandy, Class of 2014. "While we didn't really understand what this would do for people, it was fun and gratifying to stuff the stockings and then get to hand them out at the holiday party."
Fast forward two decades, and Madeline has now had the experience of being taught formally by her father at OHSU.
"I think a lot of what he's learned from Nightwatch is something he tries to convey to medical students," said Madeline. "His teaching emphasizes that your professional work can and should be impacted by the other things you do in your life that are important to you."
Dr. Grandy has a long-standing involvement and dedication to OHSU's education mission. He's served as a faculty advisor and mentor to students in the Neuroscience Graduate Program, the Program in Molecular & Cellular Biosciences, the training grant supported by the National Institute of Drug Abuse and as a course instructor and director of the first year medical student research activity known as Learners Exploring Frontiers of Medicine.
Not only has the Nightwatch experience informed his teaching, the firsthand knowledge of mental illness has contributed to – and motivated – Dr. Grandy's research.
"We're on the road to really understanding how methamphetamine affects the brain and body at the molecular level," he said.
His work has resulted in 23 patents and includes the cloning and characterization of the dopamine D1, D2 and D5 receptor genes that established the field of dopamine receptor molecular biology and molecular pharmacology. The Grandy Lab discovered the OrphaninFQ/nociceptin system consisting of a receptor and peptide activator in addition to the methamphetamine-activated, catecholamine-like orphan receptor now referred to as Trace Amine-Associated Receptor 1 (TAAR1) and its novel endogenous activator 3-iodothyronamine (T1AM), a close relative of thyroid hormone.
"By demonstrating a mental illness has a molecular basis, we take a big step toward de-stigmatizing individuals with mental health issues. Eventually we hope our work will not only lead to better treatment options for those afflicted but also inspire those more fortunate to show greater compassion to those in need."
Madeline has selected a different path – she wants to practice internal medicine and be active in changing public health policies that affect the underserved – but she is similarly motivated by Operation Nightwatch.
"Everyone in medicine has an interest in easing suffering, but through experiences such as those I had volunteering with my father for Operation Nightwatch, I learned to be more selfless and accepting of people who have different qualities than me," Madeline said.
Next to their large ambitions in research and medicine, both Grandys will undoubtedly continue to cultivate small but important actions like volunteerism, social service and – when the opportunity arises – teaching the value of a gift of socks.
Employees interested in making donations in support of Operation Nightwatch's mission can do so through OHSU's Annual Community Giving Campaign.
Pictured (top to bottom): Dr. Grandy; Bridlemile Girl Scout troop #671 receive instructions on stuffing stockings from Dr. Grandy; Madeline Grandy