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School of Medicine
Bill Guggino of Physiology on Hopkins’ oldest basic science department
Physiology seems to reinvent itself on a regular basis.
GUGGINO: True. You can look at it in terms of major transitions. Many years ago, the department focused primarily on animal physiology but made a successful transition to much more molecular approaches. The transition was so successful that researchers would discover a gene, clone it, and then come to our department for help understanding the function of the protein encoded by the gene. Examples of this included our work with Peter Agre on water channels, with Craig Montell on TRP channels, with Sol Snyder on sodium and potassium channels. We helped identify the function of individual genes that impact organ physiology.
And how is that changing?
GUGGINO: In the 1990s, we acquired a lot of knowledge of individual genes. In my field of study, we know that many genes and many signal transduction pathways work together to regulate fluid balance, for example. Now the challenge is to move physiology to a new era where we integrate some of those discoveries. Understanding ensembles of functional pathways is going to become more important, and physiology is destined to play a big role in understanding how multiple pathways work together to affect organ function.
How will you need to evolve to meet these challenges?
GUGGINO: When researchers went from studying whole tissues and organs to tissue culture to molecular biology, each time they acquired new sets of tools and a new perspective. Now we need to develop both tools and new coursework for an integrative physiology—and we’ll have to train a whole generation of students in these methods. There’s a lot of talk about doing this, but in practice we are still at the dawn of this era.