January 04, 2008

New chair of Case Western Reserve University's physiology and biophysics comes home

Renowned scientist and Elyria native Walter Boron discovered how cells regulate acid-based balance in the body; also brings eight researchers with him from Yale

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The academic year of 2007-2008 at Case Western Reserve University has seen a few homecomings, most notably, new President Barbara R. Snyder, who was an assistant professor at the School of Law in the 1980s. In addition to the university's new president, renowned scientist and researcher Walter F. Boron, a native of Elyria, Ohio, has come home to the Cleveland area and to the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine as new chair and professor in the department of physiology and biophysics, one of the university's oldest and highly-ranked areas of teaching and medical research.

Boron arrived at Case Western Reserve from the Yale University School of Medicine, where he served for 29 years in several academic and research capacities ranging from postdoctoral fellow to chair and full professor in the department of cellular and molecular physiology. He has spent most of his career working on understanding how biological systems operate and interact. Boron is widely considered a pioneer in research that focuses on how ion-transport processes regulate intracellular acid-base (pH), how these transporters are themselves regulated, and the role that these processes play in disease.

"I'm excited to join the department of physiology and biophysics at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine," said Boron. "My immediate goals are to recruit outstanding scientists to Cleveland, and to promote collaborative research projects within the department and across disciplines in the medical school and other schools within the university."

Pamela B. Davis, dean and vice president of medical affairs and the Arline H. and Curtis L. Garvin, M.D., Research Professor at the School of Medicine, recruited Boron to the university. "We are extremely fortunate to have someone of Walter Boron's caliber in Cleveland and at Case Western Reserve University," she said. "He is an outstanding scientist and pioneering researcher who has devoted his career to linking molecular and cellular biology to the study of human physiology and disease. Dr. Boron also has a reputation as an outstanding teacher and mentor – our students will greatly benefit from his relocation to the School of Medicine."

Boron's lab, which includes eight additional researchers from Yale who are joining him in Cleveland, uses a range of techniques - from the level of atoms to single molecules to single cells to tissues to living mice -- to understand how the body regulates pH inside of single cells and blood. Close regulation of pH, both for cells and blood, is critical for survival. These processes are also important for patients with cancer, kidney and lung disease. The Boron lab focuses on proteins that transport bicarbonate and gases such as carbon dioxide across cell membranes, and other membrane proteins that sense levels of bicarbonate and carbon dioxide in the blood.

In addition, Boron is bringing his company, Aeromics LLC, to Cleveland. After receiving seed money from the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), an arm of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Aeromics will be based at BioEnterprise Corporation. The local biotechnology business incubator is a partnership of Case Western Reserve, the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals.

"Stroke is the number three killer in the U.S., and the leading cause of disability. One of the major problems in stroke is cerebral edema (swelling of the brain as water enters from the blood)," said Boron. "In our lab, we learned that gases can enter cells through the same channel protein that water uses. Because this protein is extraordinarily abundant in the barrier between the blood and the brain, we thought it was necessary to set up a company to do clinical development of drugs that could block the water flow into the brain, and yet leave the gas flow intact."

Boron, who has been an active member of the American Physiological Society since 1981, served as the organization's president from 1998-2001. He is editor of the journal Physiology and a co-editor of Medical Physiology, A Cellular and Molecular Approach, the field's definitive university textbook. He also is the recipient of NIH's highly-selective MERIT (Method to Extend Research in Time) Award. MERIT Awards provide long-term support to investigators with impressive records of scientific achievement in research areas of special importance or promise. Less than five percent of NIH-funded investigators are selected to receive MERIT Awards.

The department of physiology and biophysics at the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine is a multidisciplinary department ranked among the top 10 physiology and biophysics departments in the country based on funding from the NIH. The department includes over 60 active faculty members and approximately 50 graduate students.

For more information contact Laura M. Massie, 216.368.4442.

Posted by: Kimyette Finley, January 4, 2008 11:24 AM | News Topics: Appointments, Faculty, HeadlinesMain, Provost Initiatives, Research, School of Medicine

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