Steven C. Hebert,
Steven C. Hebert, M.D., chair and C.N.H. Long Professor of Cellular and Molecular Physiology and professor of medicine, died of cardiovascular disease in New Haven on April 15. He was 61. Hebert was a board-certified nephrologist who devoted his career to the science of renal fluid and electrolyte regulation. He made major contributions to medicine, notably in the cloning of genes that mediate or regulate the transport of sodium, potassium and calcium across cell membranes. His work won him election to the National Academy of Sciences in 2005, and his research was the basis for a new class of drugs used to treat hyperparathyroidism, a hormonal disorder that affects many of the more than 1 million patients worldwide with end-stage kidney disease. Hebert was born in 1946 in Rockford, Ill., and lived for part of his childhood on the island of Great Inagua in the Bahamas, where his father was a contractor for the Morton Salt Co. In a profile published in 2006 in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, he recalled watching bulldozers pile dried sea salt into mountains 150 feet high and speculated that his interest in metabolic salts may have had its genesis there. He entered Florida State University at age 15 and graduated after three years. Hebert received his medical degree from the University of Florida in 1970. Following training in internal medicine and nephrology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), he served on the faculty at UAB, Eastern Virginia Medical School, the University of Texas Medical School in Houston, Harvard Medical School, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. In 1997 he joined Vanderbilt University as director of the Division of Nephrology and the Ann and Roscoe R. Robinson Professor of Medicine. In 2000 he was offered the chair at Yale, which gave him the opportunity to lead a world-class department and continue his close collaboration with Gerhard Giebisch, M.D., a longtime friend and mentor. In the early 1990s, Hebert’s laboratory made three fundamental discoveries about the kidney’s processing of potassium, sodium and calcium. His group identified a channel that regulates potassium excretion and is involved in Bartter syndrome type II, an inherited disorder that causes loss of sodium and potassium through the urine. He and his colleagues also identified two sodium chloride transporters that are target sites for important diuretic drugs. His subsequent discovery of a calcium-sensing receptor known as CASR led to the development of a new class of drugs that modulate calcium-receptor activity. Most recently, with John Geibel, M.D., D.Sc., Hebert demonstrated in an animal model that diarrhea could be reversed almost immediately by activating the CASR receptor. Such treatment would have a major impact on health problems in developing countries, where diarrheal disease kills some 3 million infants and children each year. Hebert was awarded numerous professional honors, including the Homer W. Smith Award from the American Society of Nephrology, the A.N. Richards Award from the International Society of Nephrology, and the Carl W. Gottschalk Distinguished Lectureship from the American Society of Physiology.