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Bill Guggino of Physiology
contemplates fish, physiology and his love of the sea
Where did your interest in research come from?
GUGGINO: I loved the sea. I grew up in New York City, and I’d always go to the ocean—the Rockaways or Jones Beach.
I was also always interested in how things work. My father was a tinkerer, (so maybe it came from him.) Anything he might fix—TVs, clocks—he’d try to fix them. If he couldn’t fix them, he’d give them to me. I would take them apart to understand how they worked. So it was natural for me to wonder about the things that live in the sea.
What sorts of questions did you ask?
GUGGINO: I became intrigued by how the ocean is very salty but if you eat saltwater fish, they’re not salty. If you put your hand in seawater, eventually your fingers will shrivel. Why doesn’t a fish shrivel up? And, on an even more fundamental level, I started asking about eggs in the sea; how come they are not shriveled?
What’s the answer?
GUGGINO: Fish have a concentration of salt in their bodies only a little bit higher than we do but much less than what is present in seawater. This is because they drink seawater and then actively transport excess salt out of their bodies through chloride-dependent transport mechanisms in their gills.
How did your early interests lead to your work on cystic fibrosis?
GUGGINO: In grad school, I studied fish physiology and began using fish embryos to study salt and water balance. I discovered special chloride-transporting cells in the developing fish. During my postdoctoral training I found similar transporters in the mammalian kidney.
Years later, when I came to Hopkins, it was becoming clear that cystic fibrosis had something to do with defective chloride transport. So when several researchers wanted to started a cystic fibrosis center, they wanted someone who had studied chloride transport. They came to me, and that led to many different projects. Now I direct the Cystic Fibrosis Research Development Program. As it turns out, the chloride transporter that’s defective in CF patients is similar to the one found in fish.
Did you ever think that your research interests would lead you to focus on gout?
GUGGINO: Two years ago, I had no idea my work was going to lead to a study related to gout. Studying the movements of salts and water, which is fundamentally what we do, takes me in so many different directions. Every day, I get up and it is like a fantastic journey. Every day offers a new discovery.
Bill Guggino on studying the basic science behind cystic fibrosis: