Diving has always been a defining element of Professor Chris Howarth’s life – in fact, it was what first brought him to the UAE three decades ago.
These days, however, he dives into the depths of research, rather than oceans – research which aims to unlock new discoveries surrounding critical health issues.
Now based in the Department of Physiology of the College of Medicine and Health Sciences at United Arab Emirates University, Chris amassed an entirely different set of life experiences before entering academia and science. His previous career was in the commercial diving industry, where he spent much of the 1980s after completing his training in the UK coastal town of Plymouth, and which gave him his initial taste of life in the Middle East.
Having taken up a role as a manager for a commercial diving company in Abu Dhabi, Chris became well acquainted with life beneath the waves in the offshore oilfields of the Arabian Gulf. However, toward the end of the 1980s, he decided the time was right for a career change, returning to his home country of the UK and obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree, with first-class honors, in physiology and biochemistry, a PhD in Cardiac Physiology (supported by a Prize Studentship from the British Heart Foundation), and two postdocs from the University of Bristol and the University of Leeds.
And his relationship with the UAE was rekindled in 1998 when he took up the position of Assistant Professor in UAEU’s Department of Physiology, being promoted to Associate Professor in 2003 and Professor in 2008, while also serving as the Chair of the Department from 2012-2016.
For more than 15 years, a key focus of Chris’ laboratory has been understanding the cellular basis of electrical and mechanical defects in the diabetic heart. This focus has two strands: the effect of diabetes on the generation and conduction of electrical signals; and the effect of the disease on cardiac muscle function.
The heart’s electrical and mechanical function is often compromised by diabetes - one of the most serious national, regional, and global health issues, estimated to affect 415 million adults in 2015, and predicted to affect 642 million by 2040. Over a million diabetes cases were reported in the UAE in 2015, and cardiovascular disease represents the major cause of morbidity and mortality in patients with the condition.
The research that Chris and his lab have conducted in the field of diabetes has led to collaborations with a string of international universities, including the University of Bristol, the University of Central Lancashire, the University of Dublin, the University of Leeds, and the University of Manchester. Chris’ work has been supported by more than 40 national and international grants and generated more than 100 original articles and book chapters, while he has supervised many undergraduate and postgraduate MSc and PhD student projects.
Chris has also received numerous awards for his research, including the Sheikh Hamdan Award for Medical Sciences (2002), the Merit Award for Contribution to Student Development (2006), the Dean’s Recognition Award for Distinguished Services to Student Research (2006), UAEU’s Best Interdisciplinary Project Award and Best Individual Project Award (2008), the FMHS Distinguished Research Award (2009 and 2010), and the Best Course and Excellence in Department Teaching Award (2014 and 2015).
Away from the laboratory, Chris, a father-of-three who is married to wife Brigitte, an Associate Professor in the Department of Life Sciences at Zayed University, Dubai Campus, still dives occasionally for fun. He also enjoys training in the gym and swimming.