PORES, FOR WHEN IT RAINS
Agre Shares Insights of Lifetime of Water Studies

Dr. Peter Agre used an image of a flood
because water was central to his recent talk.

Dr. Peter Agre used an image of a flood
because water was central to his recent talk.

Aquaporin is not what happens when the tent leaks on a camping trip. But the discovery of aquaporins—long-sought molecules that serve as life-enabling water channels in all things that live—does, in a way, involve camping, according to Dr. Peter Agre, who shared the 2003 Nobel Prize in chemistry for the finding.

In a Sept. 9 Wednesday Afternoon Lecture that he aimed squarely at young scientists, Agre, 66, told a most agreeable story: a life rich with intellectual and social camaraderie spanning the globe—from Oslo to Tokyo to Malawi—with friendships yielding a natural harvest of discovery, in an almost secondary way.

“I started out as one of you,” he told youthful investigators in Masur Auditorium, which was hosting a concurrent blood bank symposium, “and branched out.” He counseled newcomers to scientific careers to be persistent: “It’s hard to perceive how far things can go.”

Water has been called the universal solvent, or, as Nobel laureate Albert Szent- Gyorgy called it, “the solvent of life,” said Agre. But it “brings problems when in disequilibrium,” which can include hurricanes and monsoons as well as failed kidneys.

Water will diffuse through anything, of course, but when it meets an aquaporin, it is selectively chaperoned in a way unparalleled in biology.

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Lung Injury Limits Transplant Success

Blood stem cell (a.k.a bone marrow) transplant is the only treatment option for patients with many conditions affecting the immune system, such as aplastic anemia, leukemia and sickle cell anemia, said Dr. Kenneth Cooke at a Contemporary Clinical Medicine/ Great Teachers Grand Rounds held in Lipsett Amphitheater on Sept. 9.

Before patients receive a transplant, high doses of chemotherapy or radiation are used to destroy their existing immune systems. Bone marrow stem cells from a donor are then used to seed a new immune system in the recipient. If all goes well, the donor cells multiply into a fully functioning immune network that protects the patient against disease, explained Cooke, professor of pediatric oncology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and director of the Pediatric Bone Marrow Program at Hopkins’ Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Sometimes, however, the immune cells mistake the cells of their new host for a disease-causing invader. The result is graft vs. host disease (GVHD), a potentially life-threatening condition where the donor cells—the graft—attack the patient cells—the host. GVHD is “always a risk unless the donor and host are identical twins,” Cooke said.

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