Forensic pathologist brings expertise to Queen's and Kingston
By Anita Jansman
Kris Cunningham is the newest faculty member in the School of Medicine’s Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine. He brings with him a wealth of experience and education to the science of forensic and cardiovascular pathology.
He comes from the University of Toronto, where he was a forensic and cardiovascular pathologist and medical director at the Provincial Forensic Pathology Unit of the Ontario Forensic Pathology Service.
From the unique perspective of forensic pathology, Dr. Cunningham feels he can contribute to the well-being of surviving relatives of patients who have lost their lives to genetic forms of cardiovascular disease.
“It’s a sad event when a young person dies of an undiagnosed inherited heart condition. The one thing I can potentially offer to relatives is insight on whether they too carry the mutation. They can be treated and then make important decisions about their own lives such as whether or not to have children,” says Dr. Cunningham.
When he began studying medicine, after earning a PhD in biochemistry from Ohio State University, Dr. Cunningham planned to become a cardio specialist. But he changed his mind and chose to study pathology instead.
There has recently been an interest in utilizing the tools of molecular pathology to help answer questions that arise out of postmortem examinations, and Dr. Cunningham feels excited and privileged to be a part of this fascinating area of study. “We’re planning to develop a molecular autopsy program here at Queen’s,” he says.
At Queen’s, Dr. Cunningham will teach cardiovascular pathology, forensic pathology and courses in autopsy to medical, graduate and undergraduate students as well as to residents in pathology. He also plans to develop a research programme into sudden cardiac death.
In addition to his academic work at Queen’s, Dr. Cunningham has also taken on the role of director of the Kingston Regional Forensic Pathology Unit and the Kingston General Hospital Autopsy Service. In this role, he will provide forensic pathology services to the region and fill a position that has been vacant for years. Needless to say, his arrival has made local and regional law officials relieved and happy.
“All criminally suspicious cases used to be sent to Ottawa or Toronto making it necessary for law enforcement officers to go there. It makes their job easier having someone in Kingston and brings in an expertise locally that can facilitate their investigations,” says Dr. Cunningham.
Dr. Cunningham sees a personal benefit to leaving Toronto and moving to Kingston – he no longer has an hour-long commute to get to work. He and his wife, an art historian, are settling into their new home in west-end Kingston with their two young children. They’re thrilled to be in such a family-friendly city and look forward to building a new life here.