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Nobel Laureate Peter Agre to Lead Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute



Peter Agre, MD

Nobel laureate Peter Agre, MD, has been selected to lead the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute (JHMRI). Agre will take over as director at JHMRI and join the faculty of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health on January 1, 2008. He will remain on the faculty at Duke University and retain some of his current responsibilities there.

The announcement was made today in New York City during the “Progress Against Malaria” symposium hosted by JHMRI and the New York Academy of Sciences.

Founded in 2001 as a state-of-the-art malaria research facility, JHMRI has 19 full-time faculty dedicated to the search for medical and scientific breakthroughs in malaria prevention and treatment by advancing basic science along every stage of the malaria parasite lifecycle. Agre will succeed Diane E. Griffin, MD, PhD, who has led JHMRI since it was first established. She will continue to chair the Bloomberg School’s W. Harry Feinstone Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology.

“Peter Agre is a great scientist and a great human being. His innovative research into the molecular biology of malaria parasites, as well as his ability to lead collaborations, makes him an ideal candidate to direct the Malaria Research Institute,” said Michael J. Klag, MD, MPH, dean of the Bloomberg School of Public Health. “He has the universal respect and admiration of those who know him. His advocacy for human rights fits well with the mission of the Bloomberg School.”

In 2003, Agre shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Roderick MacKinnon for his discovery of aquaporins—channels that regulate and facilitate water molecule transport through cell membranes, a process essential to all living organisms. In 2004, Agre turned his research attention toward malaria when he was awarded a pilot grant from JHMRI.

“Sometimes in a career, there are pathways you never fully get to explore. A leadership position is one way to do good things for younger scientists. I hope to do this by increasing the visibility of their work, connecting them with other scientists around the world, and reducing barriers to their achievement of success,” said Agre. He has “always felt an interest in diseases affecting the developing world,” said Agre. “Malaria is a scourge that kills more than one million people each year, many of them children.”

A major part of the parasite’s lifecycle is in red blood cells, so Agre’s background as a hematologist and red-blood-cell membrane biochemist has the potential to be very useful. Agre is currently examining whether aquaporins within the malaria-causing parasite Plasmodium could be utilized to disrupt its lifecycle.

Agre will remain a professor of cell biology and medicine and a senior advisor to the Chancellor for Health Affairs at Duke University, where he will maintain a laboratory and continue some of his current duties. He also will lead development of a consortium of malaria researchers at JHMRI and those at Duke and in Triangle region of North Carolina.

Born in Northfield, Minn., in 1949, Agre went to Theodore Roosevelt High School, and in 1970 earned his bachelor's degree in chemistry from Augsburg College in that city. He received his medical degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 1974. In 1981, after post-graduate medical training and a fellowship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Agre returned to Hopkins, where he progressed through the ranks of the departments of medicine and cell biology. In 1993, he became a professor in the department of biological chemistry at the School of Medicine. In 2005, he joined Duke University Medical Center as Vice Chancellor for Science and Technology.

Agre was elected to membership in the National Academy of Sciences in 2000 and to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2003. He holds two U.S. patents on the isolation, cloning and expression of aquaporins 1 and 5 and is the principal investigator on four current National Institutes of Health grants.

Public Affairs media contact for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Tim Parsons at 410-955-6878 or