Douglas C. Eaton

78th APS President (2005-2006)
Douglas C. Eaton
(b. 1945)

Douglas C. Eaton is a Distinguished Professor and Deputy Chairman of Physiology and Professor of Pediatrics at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. He received a Masters in Marine Biology from Scripps Institute of Oceanography in 1969 and his PhD in Neuroscience from the University of California, San Diego, in 1971. He spent one year in the Marine Corps at the very end of the Vietnam era, but was released early because of the end of the war. He subsequently did postdoctoral work with Susumu Hagiwara and Jared Diamond at the University of California, Los Angeles, and with Felix Strumwasser at California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, CA. He became an Assistant Professor at the University of Texas, Medical Branch, in Galveston, TX, in 1973, an Associate Professor in 1978, and was appointed a full Professor of Physiology in 1985. In 1986, Eaton moved to Emory University in Atlanta where he became Professor and Deputy Chair of Physiology. In 1990 he was appointed as Professor of Pediatrics. In 1995 he established and became the Director of the Research Center for Cell and Molecular Signaling at Emory University and in 2002 he was appointed Distinguished Professor of Physiology. 

Eaton's research has seemingly varied over his career. However, the central theme has been how membrane ion channels are regulated to produce cellular and organismal electrolyte homeostasis. When Eaton was scientifically growing up in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the ion channels to study were in nerve cells but, at that time, there were no mammalian preparations accessible for work on the single cell biophysics of ion channels. Therefore, most work was done on invertebrates, marine animals, or insects. These investigators euphemistically called themselves the "squishys" or the "crunchys." Eaton was a "squishy" working on the properties of potassium channels in neurons of the sea snail, Aplysia. He subsequently worked extensively on squid giant axon ion channels at Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole. To this day, he keeps in touch with his neuroscience roots by working on potassium channels in central neurons. This background helps to explain his degrees in Marine Biology and Neuroscience. However, new electrophysiological methods allowed an examination of the regulation of ion channels in other tissues. In the early 1970s, he began an examination of ion channels in sodium transporting epithelia, an area he has pursued for the last 30 years. His early work in this area was promoted by a Research Career Development Award from the National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases (1978-1983). This award lead to his use of single channel and patch clamp methods to examine the properties of sodium and chloride channels in both renal cells and lung alveolar cells. This work focuses on signaling cascades that regulate sodium and chloride transport with an emphasis on regulation by heterotrimeric and small G proteins and inositol lipids and inositol lipid kinases and the role steroid hormones play in this regulation. He has been continuously supported in this work and currently has a Merit Award from NIDDK. More recently, Eaton has begun an examination of salt and water transport by lung epithelial cells since it is critical for normal clearance of fluid from the lungs at birth and in the post-natal lung for maintaining a thin fluid layer on the surface of the airways to promote pulmonary gas exchange and clearance of foreign particulates from the lung. This work focuses on assembly, trafficking, and degradation of ion channels and how this affects the normal physiology and pathophysiology of the lung.

In addition to his research, Eaton directs the FIRST Program (Fellows in Research and Science Teaching), an NIH-funded initiative that pairs Emory University with the three minority-serving institutions, Spelman College, Morehouse College, and Clark-Atlanta University. The Program allows qualified postdoctoral fellows the opportunity to complete a traditional postdoctoral research program while also providing training in teaching methods and an opportunity for classroom experience. The Program is also designed to increase the number of under-represented minorities in academic research careers. Eaton has over 120 research papers including papers in the Renal, Lung, Cell, and GI sections of the American Journal of Physiology. He has recently published a monograph for graduate and medical students on renal physiology. He has been an Associate Editor for American Journal of Physiology-Cell Physiology and is currently an Associate Editor for American Journal of Physiology-Renal Physiology. He is also on the editorial board of the Journal of Biological Chemistry. He served on National Science Foundation Neurobiology Advisory Pane from 1980-1983. He has been a regular member and Chairman of three NIH Study Sections: the Physiology Study Section (1985-1988); National Institutes of Digestive Diseases and Kidney Special Grants Study Section (1989-1993); and the General Medicine B Study Section (1994-1998). He also served on the NIH General Medical Sciences: Large grants (Glue) review panel (1999-2000). Besides the regular membership on NIH study sections, he has served on over 40 Ad Hoc Review Panels and Site Visit Teams for NIDDK, NHLBI, NIGMS, NCRR, and NCI since 1975. He also served on the National Institute of Standards and Technology Review Board from 1985-1999 and as a member Signal Transduction Review Panel for the American Heart Association.

Eaton became a member of the APS in 1981. In addition to his editorial work for AJP-Cell Physiology and AJP-Renal Physiology, Eaton has served the APS in several capacities. He was the Chair of the Epithelial Transport Group from 1988-1992 and continued on the Steering Committee until last year. He served on the Program Advisory Committee (1988-1991) and served on the Porter Physiology Development Committee promoting the development of minority physiologists (1990-1993). He has been on the Executive Committee of the Cell Section (1987-1990) and the Executive Committee of the Renal Section (1996-present). He was an APS Symposium Organizer/Co-organizer at the Experimental Biology Meetings in 1986, 1991, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2002, and 2003 and an APS Specialty Meeting Organizer in 1992, 1997, and 2003. He was an APS Councilor from 2000-2003. He has participated in the APS Frontiers of Physiology hosting K-12 science teachers.

Besides his service to APS, Eaton has been a Council Member, Secretary, and President of the Society of General Physiologists. He is a Fellow of the American Society of Nephrology and a charter member of the Society for Neuroscience. He is also a member of Sigma Xi, the Biophysical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Society of Cell Biology, the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, the American Society for Hypertension Research, and the American Thoracic Society.