Craig Crandall has an easygoing confidence about him, one that doubtless stems from decades of research experience in his field. (There is a quiet confidence in those who know their work well.) He likewise has the air of someone who’s long been an educator, and he had no trouble entertaining the questions of this lay writer with both kindness and patience.
Craig Crandall, M.D., FACSM, is a professor of internal medicine and director of the Thermal and Vascular Physiology Laboratory at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, where he studies, among other things, heat stress in the elderly and those who have experienced significant burns. He has published more than 230 papers in highly regarded peer-reviewed journals, and his lengthy list of accolades includes the 2021 Environmental and Exercise Physiology Edward F. Adolph Distinguished Lectureship Award, the 2017 Honor Award for the Texas Chapter of ACSM, and the Gisolfi Tutorial Lecture Award (2007). He likewise was a predoctoral fellow with NASA (1991-93) and the recipient of an NIH Individual National Research Service Award (1993-96).
But Crandall is modest. He’s mentored 27 postdoctoral students, and he is quick to acknowledge their contributions to his work of the years:
“I’ve had wonderful postdocs who really have driven much of this work and the success that I’ve had in my career,” he says.
As relates to the college, Crandall has served as a board member for the Texas chapter of ACSM (2000-3), associate editor for ACSM’s flagship journal, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise® (2005-13), and on the editorial board of the same from 2013 to the present.
Crandall’s father had been a phys ed teacher — he laughingly recalls how intimidating the middle school track and field athletes seemed to him at the time — but he says it wasn’t until he took an exercise physiology course at Brigham Young University, his undergraduate alma mater, that he realized what sort of career he’d like to pursue.
Next came a master’s degree in physical education with an emphasis on exercise physiology at the University of Oregon, where he met mentor Toby Bedford. Dr. Bedford was a relatively new professor at the time and so naturally relied heavily on his students while he was getting his lab up and running. The opportunity was a marvelous one for Crandall, who took full advantage.
“When I wasn’t in class, I was in the lab,” Crandall says.
The time was fruitful, and the experience prepared him well for subsequent graduate work. However, Crandall also knew his future would probably lead him into a different area of research.
“It was a rat lab at the time,” Crandall says, “working with some of the cardiovascular responses that occur during exercise. I really enjoyed it, but I also realized that I wanted to perhaps get out of the rat arena — that I wanted to work more with humans.”
It was while studying with Dr. Bedford, though, that Crandall was first introduced to ACSM. The professor was planning to attend the college’s annual meeting and offered Crandall a spot on his hotel room floor if the master’s student could get himself a plane ticket. Crandall took Bedford up on the offer, thus embarking on a nearly unbroken record of annual meeting attendance, save for the time he prioritized the birth of his daughter. Crandall would go on to become an ACSM member in 1990 and attain fellowship in 1999.
Pursuing a Ph.D.
But by the time he’d finished his master’s degree, Crandall was burned out. He’d spent six years in school and was ready to get a regular job and start earning money for his young family. However, his wife encouraged him to persevere.
“At the time my wife said, ‘No, we’re already poor. Let’s not change that. Let’s just stay poor and plow through this and get this doctorate.’”
Thus, when the University of North Texas Health Science Center beckoned, Crandall answered the call. It was Dr. Peter Raven — a familiar name in ACSM circles, Raven having long been an editor of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise® as well as a former ACSM president — who invited Crandall to study with him. At the time, Raven was working with NASA on the physiological effects astronauts experienced during space flight. Bringing to the table his background working in Bedford’s lab, Crandall chose to focus his dissertation on how space flight impacted blood pressure control. Here he offers an at-first amusing, then somewhat claustrophobic image:
“One of the ways that we model an astronaut going to space is you put them in bed and then tilt the head of the bed down six degrees,” he says. “So they’re actually in a head-down tilt incline, and they are confined to bed for — in our case it was two weeks. That would simulate two weeks of space flight.”
During his time at UNTHSC, Crandall made another crucial connection. He began collaborating with Dr. John Johnson, of the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. Johnson’s work focused on neural control of thermoregulation. Crandall put two and two together and wondered how the bedrest experiment they were doing might affect the subjects’ ability to thermoregulate.
University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
After completing his Ph.D., Crandall began a postdoctoral fellowship with Johnson at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. He spent three years in San Antonio before making his way by 1996 to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine in Dallas.
A timely piece of happenstance changed how Crandall would approach his future thermoregulation research: He found out that one of Raven’s current UNTHSC students had been bitten by a brown recluse spider and lost enough tissue to require a skin graft. Crandall invited her to his Dallas lab.
“Just kind of for fun,” Crandall recalls, “we said, let’s come in and do a heat stress test and see what happens with that particular spot. And we saw no sweating, and we saw no increases in blood flow which normally occur in this skin during a heat stress — and that has led us now to 20+ years of funding looking at burn survivors. Just that one brown recluse spider bite from that one individual.”
His subsequent research has primarily centered on how on blood pressure control and thermal physiology relate to the health of the elderly and those with burn injuries.
“We’re getting a lot more clinically focused, at least with the burn survivor work,” Crandall says. “We’re working more closely with the burn surgeons doing some acute assessments.”
He’s particularly interested in how initial hospitalization and subsequent surgeries impact burn victims’ recovery and rehabilitation, especially in terms of heart health.
“So when somebody gets burned, they’re typically on bed rest for some period of time while they're healing,” Crandall says, “which is unlike somebody who has a heart attack, where we try to get him to exercise right away. That’s less prevalent in the burn community. We think there’s some adverse cardiovascular responses, and we're interested in in pursuing that.”
Crandall is likewise looking into how to better prepare the elderly for dangerously warm weather.
“A whole other line of research that we have is looking at the effects of aging on cardiovascular responses during a heat wave. Simply put: Why are older people more likely to die during a heat wave relative to younger populations? And how can we mitigate it?”
Crandall and his team are studying the underlying mechanisms related to aging that might contribute to this disparity, but they are also quick to acknowledge the possibility that elderly people may simply not have access to or the desire to use air conditioning because of the extra cost. Thus, they’re empirically assessing the effectiveness of inexpensive, common-sense solutions:
“We’re looking at low-energy cooling modalities like fans and water spray,” he says. “And things like simply immersing a shirt in water and then putting that shirt on.”
Crandall on the American College of Sports Medicine
As for his opinion of ACSM, Crandall is effusive:
“ACSM is a wonderful organization for people to get involved with. What I particularly love about it is their regional affiliates where individuals can go to a smaller meeting that’s often very student focused, and then apply the experience there to the national meeting.
“I’ve always enjoyed those meetings and the people that I’ve met throughout my career because of those meetings. The face-to-face interactions have been just wonderful, I’ve thoroughly enjoy that.”
"[Dr. Crandall] is an internationally respected leader in human physiology and sports medicine, has trained a substantial quantity of future leaders in the field, and has provided substantial ongoing service to ACSM.
- Citation Award nominator W. Larry Kenney, Ph.D., FACSM, ACSM past president
"21 [of his 27 postdoctoral fellows] have gone on to develop strong careers in academia, with the remainder working in government research laboratories. … The quantity and quality of his trainees speak to Craig’s commitment to training the future generation of scientists which have and will continue to support ACSM’s goals.”
- Citation Award nominator Benjamin D. Levine, M.D., FACSM