By Doug Hubley
It’s not surprising that physicians as motivated as Dervilla McCann and Stephen Meister are increasingly prominent in Maine medicine.
Meister, an Augusta-based pediatrician, is at the forefront of the Mid-Maine Child Trauma Network, a federally funded initiative to serve children and families who have experienced traumatic stress.
“He does not take care of the worried well,” says his wife. “He takes care of the devastated kids with no advocates and nowhere to go.”
McCann enjoys a reputation as a cardiologist with a diagnostic specialty in non-invasive imaging techniques, like echocardiography. As a clinical scientist, she’s helped give her practice, Androscoggin Cardiology Associates, a growing renown for research rarely seen outside of a major academic center. With her colleague Dr. Robert Weiss as lead investigator, McCann estimates she is involved in some 30 research studies as sub-investigator.
She’s particularly excited about one drug trial, undertaken with Maine Medical Center, seeking ways to reverse coronary artery disease — something that’s currently not possible. She’s involved in a national hypertension study, the largest-ever of its kind, that made headlines with the finding that traditional, low-cost diuretics lower blood pressure more effectively in many cases than more recent statin drugs.
McCann is also curious about the high levels of the harmful cholesterol LDL, an important indicator of heart attack risk, among some Lewiston residents of French descent. In fact, a fair number — no one has studied how many — of local Franco-Americans have a gene that leads to high LDL levels. The accepted theory is that French founders of Quebec carried the gene and shared it with their Lewiston descendants.
But another genetic source of high LDL could be Native Americans. It’s pure speculation, McCann says, but Native Americans living in Maine centuries ago might have benefited from a genetic predisposition to high LDL, “because the molecule is critical for a repair response after injury.” Intermarriage between Native Americans and French settlers would only reinforce the condition. “I wish some scientist would come to Maine and take a look at this,” she says, “because it’s a fascinating genetic puzzle waiting to be put back together.”