At its annual meeting last November, the American Society of Nephrology (ASN) awarded the 2008 John P. Peters Award to Robert J. Alpern, M.D., dean of the School of Medicine. The award honors “individuals who have made substantial research contributions to the discipline of nephrology and have sustained achievements in one or more domains of academic medicine including clinical care, education and leadership.”
Alpern’s career has combined research, teaching and administration in equal measure. He began his scientific work in 1979 at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), where he completed a postdoctoral fellowship in nephrology with Floyd C. Rector Jr., M.D., studying membrane transport, the means by which ions and molecules enter and leave cells, in the kidney. He continued this line of investigation, focusing on the regulation of kidney transport proteins. Alpern has defined mechanisms of hydrogen and bicarbonate transport in the proximal tubule of the kidney, and he proved the existence of an electrogenic sodium-coupled bicarbonate transporter in mammals. More recently, his research has focused on the molecular mechanisms by which the sodium–hydrogen exchanger of the kidney’s proximal tubule is regulated.
In 1987, Alpern was recruited from UCSF to serve as chief of nephrology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, where he later held the Ruth W. and Milton P. Levy Sr. Chair in Molecular Nephrology and the Atticus James Gill, M.D., Chair in Medical Science. In 1998, Alpern was appointed dean of Southwestern. Alpern became dean and Ensign Professor of Medicine at Yale in 2004.
A former president of the ASN, Alpern has served as associate editor of the American Journal of Physiology: Renal and Hospital Practice: Physiology in Medicine; as section editor of the renal and electrolyte section of the Annual Review of Physiology and the molecular cell biology and physiology of solute transport section of Current Opinion in Nephrology and Hypertension; as consulting editor of the Journal of Clinical Investigation and Kidney International, and on the editorial board of numerous other journals. He was elected to the American Society of Clinical Investigation, the Association of American Physicians and the Institute of Medicine, and has served on the Advisory Council of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Alpern is co-editor of the latest edition of Seldin and Giebisch’s The Kidney: Physiology & Pathophysiology, a top textbook in nephrology.
The Peters Award, established in 1983, is named for John P. Peters, M.D., one of the fathers of nephrology. Peters spent his entire career at Yale School of Medicine, where he was chief of the Metabolic Division of the Department of Medicine from 1922 to 1955. In addition to being a skilled clinician who was beloved by his patients, Peters was instrumental in the emergence of clinical chemistry as a quantitative field that could provide precise measurements of body fluids for the diagnosis and treatment of disease.