News at Medicine - October 2018 - The Great Ape Heart Project

The Great Ape Heart Project
October 16, 2018
Faculty of Medicine alum uses his skills to save primates
Dr. William Devlin (MD ’88) is a successful cardiologist with the Michigan Heart Group and medical director of the Coronary Care Unit. But it’s his passion outside his day job that gets more attention.
Dr. Devlin works on the hearts of great apes through the Great Ape Heart Project.
Great apes, which includes gorillas, orangutans, chimps and bonobos, in captivity are dying of heart disease. The veterinarian world reached out to human cardiologists, including Dr. Devlin, to help with the diagnosis and treatment of apes with cardiac disease. 

“There are not too many differences between the human primate heart and the heart of a gorilla or chimp,” he explains. “We don’t know why these animals are developing heart disease but we are using the knowledge of human disease to help animals. It is a unique situation to be in as too often animals are used to help people but here we are going in the other direction.” 

The native of St. John’s was in N.L. recently for his 30th reunion. While here, Dr. Devlin and his wife, Molly Brennan, supported the Faculty of Medicine with a donation to help students. As a result, the student lounge was renamed the Devlin Family Student Facilities.
“When I was at MUN we did not have a student facility like this. The students have a wonderful space to relax and feel comfortable in. We hope it becomes an area where ideas can be shared and friendship forged. The science and lectures are delivered in auditoriums and classrooms but so much of what makes up the experience of medical education comes from student to student interaction. This space can help with that.”
“We’re very grateful to the Devlin family for this generous donation,” commented Dean Margaret Steele. “As part of our strategic plan, Destination Excellence, launched this year, under our Empowered People pillar, we committed to providing spaces where faculty, staff and learners can network and collaborate. Support from our alumni and friends is tremendously important to ensuring they succeed, not only to achieve academic success, but also so they feel empowered to reach their full potential.”
Dr. Devlin, who’s also a 1982 Rhodes Scholar, believes that philanthropy can happen in many ways, big and small. “Molly and I believe that education is extremely important and have made giving to education a priority for us and our sons. We have been part of small things to try and help individuals as well as being able to give to Michigan State University, Oxford University and here to Memorial in larger ways.” 
In addition to the recent donation, Dr. Devlin is also very proud of the Faculty of Medicine Student Travel Award they established to encourage and enable medical students to present scholarly papers at conferences or other professional meetings. “When I was a medical student I won a Canadian Kidney Foundation fellowship and was successful in a submission to present a paper at the national meeting in Winnipeg. Finding money to pay for the trip was not easy but Dr. Pat Parfrey did and I was able to go. The dean now has a fund that will be used to help students in a similar situation to travel and present their successful research.”
He says his class of 1988 was pretty close knit and even though he joined the class in its second year, having transferred in from Oxford, he was welcomed unquestionably. “I think I loved the relationship we had with faculty who would soon become our colleagues. In a professional sense these were the first relationships we formed and I know some lasted for many years.”

“My wife and have been very fortunate in our education and Memorial gave me an opportunity to get a fantastic medical education. I am very grateful for what I learned here and the mentors I had. I am proud to be from Memorial. This is one way to give something back to help future generations.”

Photo: Dean Steele looks on as Dr. Devlin and Ms. Brenan unveil the new Devlin Family Student Facilities sign.
Photo by Jennifer Armstrong, HSIMS