Ewald Erdman Selkurt

49th APS President (1976-1977)
Ewald Erdman Selkurt

Selkurt's year as president of APS essentially began with the "last" of the fall meetings to be held in August on a college or university campus. The University of Pennsylvania was the site of the meeting; the date was the year of the nation's bicentennial celebration. All the medical institutions of Philadelphia were hosts and helped plan and carry out the several activities (Physiologist 19: 73-80, 1976). Recalling the occasion, Selkurt wrote:

"Announcement of termination of the summer (August) campus-type of meeting was met with dismay by some. This was tempered by the statement that going to the October city-resort format for 5-6 years could be viewed as a trail basis; return to the original format could then be considered. In fact, specialty groups might want to take up the August dates. As it turned out, Michigan State was planned for an August 1978 meeting of a specialty group."

It also turned out that in 1983 in Honolulu, and in 1984 in Lexington, Kentucky, the meetings were held again in August. Moreover there continues to be a close association with academic institutions in the cities chosen for the "city" meetings.

Born in Edmonton, Alberta, Selkurt received his formal higher education at the University of Wisconsin; he graduated in 1937 with a major in zoology and received the Ph.D. degree in 1941 in physiology. For the next three years (1941-44) he was an instructor in Homer Smith's department at New York University School of Medicine, until he moved to Carl Wiggers' department in what is now the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. By 1949 he was associate professor there and from 1953 to 1955 was coordinator of phase I of the revised medical curriculum. He then moved to Indianapolis (1958) as professor of physiology in the School of Medicine of Indiana University, where he served as chairman of the department from 1958 to 1980. In 1976 his contributions to the school and to the university were recognized by his appointment as Distinguished Professor of Physiology.

Selkurt has been active in a variety of professional societies. He became a member of the Harvey Society (New York) in 1942 and of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine in 1946; he served later (1978-81) as a member of its Council. A member of AHA from 1948, he was a delegate of the Assembly to the Basic Science Council in 1966 and 1967 and a member of the Executive Committee of this Council from 1966 to 1970. He took part in two of the conference series organized by the Josiah Macy, Jr., Foundation: on kidney (1949-53) and on shock and circulatory homeostasis (1951-55). Since 1973 he has been a member of the Council of Academic Societies of AAMC. In 1971-72 he served as president of ACDP and was given its Service Award in 1979.

For five years (1953-58) Selkurt was a member of the Subcommittee on Shock of the Committee on Medical Sciences of NRC. A few years later he served on the Cardiovascular Study Section of the National Heart Institute (1963-68) and, in 1963, on the Panel for Evaluation of Science Faculty Fellowships of NSF. For a year (1964-65) he was NSF Fellow in Gottingen, West Germany. He has held visiting professorships at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan (1968) and at the University of California at Irvine (1969 and 1970) and also was Centennial Visiting Professor at Ohio State University College of Medicine in 1970.

Before he left New York in 1944, Selkurt was elected to membership in APS. He served as a member of the Finance Committee for four years (1967-71), was chairman of the Steering Committee of the Society's Circulation Group in 1969-70, and was then elected to Council (1971-74). He was chosen as president elect in 1975.

Selkurt was a member of the editorial boards of the Society's journals from 1954 to 1973. He has held editorial positions also with the Annual Review of Physiology (1965-68), the American Heart Journal (1966-77), the Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine (1967-), and Circulatory Shock (1973-85). Because of his interest in blood flow, circulatory shock, and the renal circulation, he has been invited to take part in conferences in Stockholm, in Switzerland, and in Mexico City, as well as in sessions of the IUPS Congresses and in numerous conferences in this country.

Asked about his training as an investigator and his research interests, Selkurt replied:
"My main research interests lay broadly in renal and cardiovascular physiology. More specifically, in renal physiology, I was interested in renal hemodynamics and its relation to electrolyte handling, mainly sodium. In the cardiovascular area, my greatest interest was in the hemodynamics of the splanchnic bed (intestine, liver). In particular, one important phase was the study of these organs (kidney, splanchnic) in hemorrhagic and ischemic shock (work done on dogs and monkeys). I utilized indirect (renal clearances) and direct (rotameter, electromagnetic flow probe) methods for blood flow measurements. In more recent years, my interest has been directed to the mechanisms of renin release (dogs) and the role of histamine. Currently we are studying the role of H-receptors on the renin mechanism."

"My introduction to physiology (and first research experience therein) was in the laboratory of Dr. Walter J. Meek at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where I participated as a graduate assistant. Dr. Meek engendered a keen interest in physiology. A liaison between Dr. Meek and Dr. Homer W. Smith eventuated in my first position in physiology, in 1941, as instructor in Dr. Smith's department in New York University. This was a an opportune time, because Dr. Smith's laboratory and associates (R. F. Pitts, J. Shannon, H. Lauson, S. Bradley, and others) were working in the heyday of new indirect renal clearance methods that could be used for studies in unanesthetized dogs and humans: the clearance of inulin for measuring glomerular filtration rate and the clearance of diodrast and PAH (p-amminohippuric acid) for measurement of renal plasma flow. I learned these methods and continue to apply them during the rest of my career. The scholarly stimulation of Homer Smith opened up renal physiology as a fascinating field."

"During the war years, I was concerned about making some sort of contribution, so I looked around to see which laboratories were doing relevant work. Standing out strongly was work being done at Western Reserve University (Cleveland) in the department of Carl J. Wiggers. I came there in 1944 and stayed beyond Wiggers' retirement as chairman (1954) until I took the chairmanship at Indiana University (1958)."

"Heading an active group studying many aspects of shock, primarily hemorrhagic, Wiggers convinced me to study renal function in hemorrhagic and in ischemic shock. Later, we decided to examine other regions of the splanchnic bed and studied hemodynamics of gut and liver, both normal and in shock. This was continued into the early 1960s. My interest then went strongly to kidney (e.g., the influence of hemodynamic factors on electrolyte handling). Here the training obtained under Homer Smith again took over. We studied the influence of changes in arterial, renal venous, and ureteral pressure."

"But the study of shock continued through the years at Indiana University, with a shift to study of primates (monkeys). Finally, about 1975, our interest was directed to the prostaglandin histamine, and renin interrelationship in the dog kidney. How histamine stimulates renin release is the focus of my current research."

Publications that typify these experiments include two papers in 1946. The first demonstrated that renal blood flow and renal clearances do not necessarily vary in parallel during hemorrhagic shock (1). The second, on the relation between renal blood flow and effective arterial pressure, continued the first evidence for the possibility of autoregulation of renal blood flow (2). Clearances, including sodium ion clearance, were further utilized for evaluation of renal function during graded decrements of arterial pressure (3). The authors found that as arterial pressure decreased, sodium gradually decreased in the urine until at low pressure levels the urine was sodium free. This observation laid the basis for a clinical test for unilateral kidney function. A converse result was discovered in another study of renal handling of electrolyte when elevations of mean arterial pressure were found to increase sodium excretion, with no change in renal blood flow or in glomerular filtration rate (4). At about this time Selkurt returned to study of hemorrhagic shock, by measuring blood flow and pressure in the splanchnic vasculature, together with oxygen uptake, in the presence of the failing circulation (5). A curious feature of creatinine excretion turned up in experiments published in 1969 (6). As an amphoteric substance, creatinine is secreted by tubules of the guinea pig kidney as either an organic base or an organic acid. As noted in Selkurt's own account above, recent work involves the possible role of prostaglandins in hemorrhagic shock (7) and the interrelation of histamine and prostaglandins in evoking renin release in canine kidneys (9).

Two of Selkurt's reviews on renal circulation and electrolyte excretion have been widely quoted by other authors: one in Physiological Reviews (1954) and the other in section 2 on the circulation in the Handbook of Physiology (1962). He is editor of two textbooks, Physiology and Basic Physiology for the Health Sciences (now in editions 5 and 2, respectively, Little, Brown, Boston)>

Events of particular interest while Selkurt was president of APS include a proposal to change the classes of membership to create a student member, different from the older associate member classification. In continuation of the process begun while Schmidt-Nielsen was president, a Program Executive Committee of three persons and a Program Advisory Committee of ten were organized to include representatives of specialty groups. One consequence was a relatively large number of symposia at the 1977 FASEB Meeting in Chicago. An endowment fund was established for the Society in 1976-77, the initial gift of $100,000 coming to the Society as the bequest of Dr. Caroline tum Suden. It was during Selkurt's tenure of office that the future of FASEB was threatened by a possible withdrawal of the biochemists. As Bowditch Lecturer for the 1977 fall meeting, Selkurt chose Franklyn G. Knox, who in 1985 was to become president elect of APS.

Selkurt's past president's address was unusual in its scholarly treatment of what at first seemed to be a whimsical title, "Is the dodo bird really extinct?" (8). The addresses of five former presidents were referred to, and portions of two others were actually quoted, together with Robert Pitts' call for a renaissance of laboratory teaching on the occasion when he received the teaching award of ACDP. James Reston, Maurice Visscher, J. E. Dunphy (surgeon at University of California, San Francisco), Vernon W. Lippard (former Yale dean), Harvey Cushing, and Sir William Osler were among other distinguished authorities cited. Selkurt concluded by quoting from chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes, "There is a time for everything . . .," by adding, "There is a time to look backward, a time to look ahead." This is not, however, the last word of the address as it was published. The talk ended, as it began, with a cartoon. In this one a physician seated behind an enormous desk is telling an anxious patient, "Selkurt, what you need is a massive infusion of federal funds!"

Selected Publications

1. Selkurt, E. E. Renal blood flow and renal clearances during hemorrhagic shock. Am. J. Physiol. 145: 692, 1946.

2. Selkurt, E. E. The relation of renal blood flow to effective arterial pressure in the intact kidney of the dog. Am. J. Physiol. 147: 537, 1946.

3. Selkurt, E. E., P. N. Hall, and M. P. Spencer. Influence of graded arterial pressure decrement on renal clearance of creatinine, para-aminohippurate and sodium. Am. J. Physiol. 189: 369, 1949.

4. Selkurt, E. E. Effect of pulse pressure and mean arterial pressure modification on renal hemodynamics and electrolyte and water excretion. Circulation 4: 341, 1951.

5. Selkurt, E. E., and G. A. Brecher. Splanchnic hemodynamics and oxygen utilization during hemorrhagic shock in the dog. Circ. Res. 4: 693, 1956.

6. Arendshorst, W. J., and E. E. Selkurt. Renal tubular mechanisms for creatinine secretion in the guinea pig. Am. J. Physiol. 218: 1661-1670, 1970.

7. Johnston, P. A., and E. E. Selkurt. Effect of hemorrhagic shock on renal release of prostaglandin E. Am. J. Physiol. 230: 832-838, 1976.

8. Selkurt, E. E. Past-president's address. Is the dodo bird really extinct? Physiologist 20(5): 1-8, 1977.

9. Selkurt, E. E., G. M. Hockel, and M. H. Weinberger. Some evidence for interrelationship of histamine and prostaglandin on renal function. Proc. Soc. Exp. Biol. Med. 60: 328, 1979.


Ewald E. Selkurt died February 13, 1993, in Indianapolis at the age of 78.