In recognition of his 50 years of research, teaching and leadership in the field of nephrology, Gerhard H. Giebisch, M.D., Sterling Professor Emeritus of Cellular and Molecular Physiology, was awarded the 2006 John P. Peters Award from the American Society of Nephrology (ASN). Giebisch is the first Yale faculty member to receive the Peters Award, named in honor of a well-known physician-scientist who served as chief of the Metabolic Section of Yale’s Department of Medicine from 1922 to 1955.
Born in Vienna, Austria, Giebisch moved from Cornell University Medical College to Yale in 1968 to chair the School of Medicine’s Department of Cellular and Molecular Physiology. He won the ASN’s Homer Smith Award in 1971 for his research elucidating how hormones and diuretic drugs affect the passage of ions such as potassium, sodium and chloride across cell membranes in the tubules of the kidney, a process that is crucial to maintaining chemical balance in the body’s internal environment.
In this work, Giebisch used techniques known as micropuncture and microperfusion to precisely map how and where potassium is secreted and excreted at various points along the nephron, the kidney’s basic structural and functional unit. He also employed patch-clamping techniques to record the movement of ions through channels within the membrane of kidney cells. Giebisch has endeavored to frame these fine-grained details in terms of how they affect kidney function in the whole organism. “You can take the system apart to do detailed analysis,” he has said, “but the art is to put it all back together.”
Giebisch is the author or coauthor of more than 400 research articles and book chapters. With Donald W. Seldin, M.D., the William Buchanan Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, he is coeditor of the preeminent textbook in nephrology, The Kidney: Physiology and Pathophysiology.
He has been a research mentor to over 75 trainees who now work as physiologists and nephrologists throughout the world. Giebisch was president of the ASN from 1971 to 1972, and he has served on numerous editorial boards for scientific journals and on study sections that review grant proposals for the National Institutes of Health. He is a member of The National Academy of Sciences and has received five honorary doctorates.
His colleague and collaborator Peter S. Aronson, M.D., the C.N.H. Long Professor of Medicine and professor of cellular and molecular physiology, says that Giebisch is driven by an insatiable curiosity and love of beauty in both his scientific and personal life, citing his annual mountaineering trips to the Alps—including one undertaken last fall at age 80—his fluency in several languages and his exhaustive knowledge of classical music and opera.
For Aronson, Giebisch was a natural choice for the Peters Award, which honors broad contributions to the field over and above a successful research career. “He’s trained many, many people who have gone on to open laboratories all over the world. He’s been a leader in many societies, organized many conferences and he’s edited what has become the major textbook in renal physiology,” says Aronson. “For the last thirty years, Dr. Giebisch has been probably the most prominent ‘international statesman’ of nephrology.”
Dean and Ensign Professor of Medicine Robert J. Alpern, M.D., himself a nephrologist and researcher, concurs.
“While Gerhard has been honored throughout his career for his research, the Peters Award recognizes his contributions to the broader nephrology community,” Alpern says. “He has directly mentored researchers all over the world, but in addition Gerhard has been an advisor and supporter for a multitude of researchers in nephrology. He is internationally recognized for his intellect and generosity.”