Steven C. Hebert, M.D., one of the world’s leading authorities on the kidney’s regulation of potassium and other salts, has joined the School of Medicine as professor and chair of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Physiology.

Hebert arrived at Yale on July 1 from Vanderbilt University Medical School, where he had been the Ann and Roscoe R. Robinson Professor of Medicine and professor of cell biology, pharmacology, molecular physiology and biophysics. His appointment complements current strengths at Yale in several important areas of renal physiology as well as a long tradition of innovation in the field dating to the work of John Punnett Peters, M.D., here in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s.

A long-time collaborator of his Yale departmental colleagues Gerhard H. Giebisch, M.D., and Walter F. Boron, M.D., Ph.D., whom he is succeeding as chair, Hebert received his medical degree in 1970 from the University of Florida and trained as a resident and fellow at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. He taught in Alabama, Virginia and Texas before joining the Harvard Medical School faculty in 1984 as an assistant professor of medicine (physiology). Hebert was a tenured professor at Harvard and director of the Laboratory of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, Renal Division, at Brigham and Women’s Hospital when he moved to Vanderbilt in 1997. His research has focused in part on the mechanisms and regulation of potassium, sodium and chloride transport by cells. He and colleagues cloned two of the major genes involved in potassium transport by the kidney, a potassium channel known as ROMK and the Na-K-2Cl transporter. A mutation in either gene results in improper salt handling by the kidney and is a factor in end-stage renal disease and related disorders.

Hebert’s other major research focus is on the roles of extracellular calcium as a “first messenger” regulating cell function. Working with Harvard colleague Edward M. Brown, M.D., he identified and cloned a G-protein-coupled receptor that senses extracellular calcium ions and provides the mechanism for extracellular calcium-mediated regulation of the function of parathyroid gland and of epithelial cells in the kidney and colon.

Hebert received the Carl W. Gottschalk Award from the American Physiological Society in 1995 and the Homer W. Smith Award from the American Society of Nephrology and New York Heart Association in 1997. He is also a founder and board member of two biotechnology companies, AquaBio Products Sciences and Luna Pearls, both of Portland, Maine. His wife, Patricia R. Hebert, Ph.D., is an associate research scientist in the Department of Internal Medicine.

The physiology department has 17 primary faculty members, 17 more with secondary appointments, 43 postdoctoral fellows and 24 graduate students. Hebert said he will be recruiting five new faculty members during the next five years, “bringing in people who have a focus in new and emerging areas of science such as the structure and function of proteins, the field of proteomics, and both physical and functional genomics.”

Hebert said he has always had “one foot in clinical programs and the other in the basic sciences” and has the ability to interface between the two. “Particularly important in the post-genomic era is the translation of information obtained in basic sciences to clinical medicine,” he said. “I’m very pleased to have the opportunity to do this, to increase the size of the faculty and shape the department over the next few years.”