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Aquaporin Water Channels

Dr. Agre's research in red-blood-cell biochemistry led to the first known membrane defects in congenital hemolytic anemias (spherocytosis) and produced the first isolation of the Rh blood group antigens. In 1992 his laboratory became widely recognized for discovering the aquaporins, a family of water channel proteins found throughout nature and responsible for numerous physiological processes in humans including kidney concentration as well as the secretion of spinal fluid, aqueous humor, tears, sweat and the release of glycerol from fat. Aquaporins have been implicated in multiple clinical disorders including fluid retention, bedwetting, brain edema, cataracts, heat prostration and obesity, and if aquaporin could be manipulated, it could potentially solve medical problems such as fluid retention in heart disease and brain edema after stroke. Water transport in lower organisms, microbes and plants also depend upon aquaporins.

Dr. Peter Agre is a Professor of Biological Chemistry and Professor of Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine as well as the Director of the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute at the Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore who was awarded the 2003 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for the studies he began in the late 1980s concerning channels in cell membranes. The award illustrated how contemporary biochemistry reaches down to the atomic level in its quest to understand the fundamental processes of life. That the body’s cells must contain specific channels for transporting water was suspected as early as the middle of the nineteenth century. However, it was not until 1988 that Professor Agre succeeded in isolating a membrane protein that he realized must be the long-sought-after water channel out of and into cells. This discovery opened the door to a whole series of biochemical, physiological and genetic studies of great importance for the understanding of many diseases of e.g. the kidneys, heart, muscles, nervous system, eyes and secretory glands.

Dr. Agre received his BA in chemistry from Augsburg College in 1970 and his MD from Johns Hopkins University in 1974. Following an Internal Medicine Residency at Case Western Reserve University Hospitals of Cleveland and a Hematology-Oncology Fellowship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Dr. Agre returned to Johns Hopkins as a postdoctoral fellow in cell biology. He joined the faculty in 1984 and has spent most of his professional life at Hopkins’ School of Medicine, leaving in 2005 to become Vice Chancellor for Science and Technology at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina where he guided the development of Duke’s biomedical research. His return to Hopkins and JHMRI in 2008 has given Dr. Agre the opportunity to concentrate on an area in which he has always been interested – the problem of disease in the developing world.


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