Peter Agre was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2003 for his discovery of aquaporins. Currently Vice Chancellor of Science & Technology at Duke University, Peter Agre trained and started his career in medicine, but before long, moved to laboratory-based research.
Peter Agre earned an M.D. degree from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1974. In 1981, following postgraduate training and a fellowship, he returned to Johns Hopkins, where in 1993 he advanced to professor of biological chemistry. In 2000 he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.
In the 1980s Peter Agre began conducting his pioneering research on water channels in cell membranes. First mentioned by scientists in the mid-1800s, these specialized openings allow water to flow in and out of cells. They are essential to living organisms, and scientists sought to find the channels, determine their structure, and understand how they worked. In 1988 Peter Agre was able to isolate a type of protein molecule in the cell membrane that he later came to realize was the long-sought water channel. His research included comparing how cells with and without the protein in their membranes responded when placed in a water solution. He discovered that cells with the protein swelled up as water flowed in, while those lacking the protein remained the same size. Peter Agre named the protein “aquaporin.” Researchers subsequently discovered a whole family of the proteins in animals, plants, and even bacteria. Two different aquaporins were later found to play a major role in the mechanism by which human kidneys concentrate urine and return the extracted water to the blood.
Peter Agre‘s current research is focused on the structural and functional characterization of aquaporins.