Professor of Bioenergetics, Institute for Academic Medicine
Full Member, Research Institute
Weill Cornell Medical College
Dr. Pownall’s doctoral training was in physical chemistry with postdoctoral fellowships in molecular spectroscopy at the University of Houston, and biochemistry at Baylor College of Medicine with an emphasis on lipid metabolism. Over time he moved his studies from molecules to in vivo models, studying biophysics, peptide design, lipid synthesis and enzymology, and cell and molecular biology. His work is centered on high density lipoprotein therapeutics, and energy metabolism as it relates to obesity-linked diabetes and human lipid metabolism. A major goal of his research is to determine how alcohol ingestion contributes to enhanced postprandial lipemia, attendant pancreatitis, or alcohol-induced reduction of cardiovascular disease, an effect mediated by increased HDL-cholesterol.
His research is multidisciplinary, with extensive collaboration with structural biologists, endocrinologists, and x-ray crystallographers. Structural biologists provide expertise in lipid and lipoprotein structure by electron cryo microscopy. Endocrinologists have synergistic interests in the lipid disorders found in HIV-positive patients on highly active anti retroviral therapies. X-ray crystallographers help discern the total structure of Streptococcal serum opacity factor (SOF) for determination of structure function relationships.
Dr. Pownall maintains an active academic program. He is a member of three graduate programs at Baylor College of Medicine (Structural Computational Biology and Molecular Biophysics, Cell and Molecular Biology, and Cardiovascular Sciences) in which he teaches classes and serves on graduate advisory and qualifying exams committees. He is also active in community education, giving lectures on molecular ethics to local groups including several churches, home owner associations and garden clubs.
Dr. Pownall’s studies encompass multiple aspects of lipid metabolism, particularly HDL structure, properties and function in the context of obesity-linked diabetes and atherogenesis. His research goals are as follows:
-To determine if Streptococcal serum opacity factor (SOF) can enhance cholesterol disposal and reverse atherosclerosis
-To obtain a high resolution X-ray structure of SOF for the identification of active sites and design of SOF analogs
-To compare the energy storage potential of central and femoral gluteal depots, as they relate to obesity-linked diabetes
-To assess the effects of acetate, as an alcohol metabolite and in the food supply, on HDL levels and the onset of pancreatitis