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Nephrology Pathfinder

Handler’s discoveries laid the groundwork for today’s kidney research advances.

More than 30 years after Joseph S. Handler began making landmark discoveries about how the kidney works—and devised methods for analyzing the function of the epithelial cells that line its filtration tubes, the trachea, ureter, esophagus and rectum—his findings and procedures remain the foundations for current kidney research.

Handler, who headed the Division of Nephrology in the Department of Medicine from 1988 to 2003, died on Dec. 20, 2015, at his home in Miami Beach, Florida, of cancer. He was 86.

Among Handler’s significant discoveries in renal physiology included uncovering key aspects of the urinary concentrating mechanism, which enables humans to maintain a near-constant fluid balance when our water intake and urinary volume vary. He was also the first to demonstrate that the cyclical nucleotide adenosine monophosphate impacts the effect of vasopressin, a hormone that influences the resorption of water by the kidney tubules, resulting in concentration of urine.

Handler’s contributions to the understanding of renal physiology and the fight against kidney disease earned him many accolades, including the National Kidney Foundation’s 2003 Lifetime Achievement Award, the American Physiology Society’s 2001 Berliner Award for Excellence and the American Society of Nephrology’s 1987 Homer Smith Award. He and his late wife created the school of medicine’s Joseph S. and Esther Handler Endowed Professorship in Laboratory Research in Nephrology to advance studies in renal medicine.

An avid tennis player and a connoisseur of Asian art and the work of French painter Georges Rouault, Handler took up the cello at age 74, taught himself musical theory and practiced almost daily just for the joy of it.  

Nephrology Pathfinder