A scientific impact: Dr. Ted Hinchcliffe

Published 1:56 pm Friday, March 18, 2011

Dr. Ted Hinchcliffe, of the Hormel Institute, uses the state-of-the-art technology at the institute in the fight against cancer. -- Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Dr. Ted Hinchcliffe knows cellular biology like a sports buff knows statistics. Hinchcliffe, the head of the Hinchcliffe lab at the Hormel Institute, supervises and runs experiments designed to figure out how cancer works, which they hope will one day turn into a cure.

“With the new building, (the Hormel Institute) has really made a push to do more cancer research, and it’s an exciting opportunity to join that,” Hinchcliffe said.

Hinchcliffe didn’t always want to be a scientist, however. When he was in college, he thought about becoming a historian, as he grew up fascinated with military history. However, he wasn’t sure if he’d like all the writing that goes with being a historian.

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“Now as a professor, I spend most of my time writing,” Hinchcliffe said. “So, the joke was on me.”

After becoming an undergraduate chemist major, he found he didn’t enjoy his chemistry classes as much as he liked his biology courses. Hinchcliffe decided to try a graduate program in cell biology, where he fell in love with cells and what makes them tick.

Nowadays, he’s running and overseeing experiments on how cells grow and duplicate. His lab’s most recent research involves taking parts out of a cell as it divides in order to see what function the missing part plays in the cell, sort of like how a car enthusiast takes apart a car.

“You have no idea how a race car works and you don’t have an instruction manual,” Hinchcliffe said. “You want to take it all apart and see how it works so you can figure out how to make it better. It’s a very simple questions but very complicated.”

When not trying to uncover medical mysteries, Hinchcliffe enjoys being with his family, whether it’s cooking dinner for his wife and twin son and daughter, going cross country skiing at the nature center, listening to jazz, progressive, electronic and other wild varieties of music, or planning to take his kids to the new Twins Stadium. His chief passion remains science, however, and getting more people interested in the way science impacts our lives.

“The thing about science is that anybody can do it,” Hinchcliffe said. “Anybody can, whatever your background, wherever you come from, small towns or big towns. It’s an open career path for people.”