King of the cage and the biochemistry lab
Nick Denis is a 26-year-old uOttawa Ph.D student who not only punches above his weight class in the mixed martial arts ring, but also spends his days trying to wrestle a biochemistry mystery to the ground in the lab.
The Canadian bantamweight champion of the King of the Cage MMA circuit trains mornings and evenings. During the day, he works under the tutelage of Dr. Daniel Figeys, director of the Ottawa Institute of Systems Biology, to study the PCSK9 protein, which weakens receptors in the liver that process cholesterol.
"At first, Dr. Figeys kept telling me, 'you have to choose one or the other,' but I think by now he realizes I can handle both," says Denis, who fights under the moniker The Ninja of Love, which he picked up at the gym for being a "nice guy and never giving anyone any trouble. I just like to have fun and train hard."
"It's easy for people who aren't familiar with mixed martial arts to generalize that all fighters are meatheads," says Denis. "But I think being an analytical person helps me in the ring, if you look at the top fighters, they're very strategic and have an intellectual approach to any opponent they face."
Now in his third year of graduate studies, Denis is fascinated by his research and hopes his analytical skills will serve him equally well in better understanding why the PCSK9 protein is more active in some humans and saddles them with higher cholesterol.
By Dave Weatherall
Published: May 2010