Peter D. Wagner

83rd APS President (2010-2011)
Peter D. Wagner
(b. 1944)

Peter D. Wagner, MD is Distinguished Professor of Medicine and Bioengineering at UCSD in La Jolla California. He is also chief of the Division of Physiology within the Department of Medicine in the UCSD Medical School, and directs an NIH Program Project grant that examines the functional and structural basis of skeletal muscle abnormalities in COPD. He is board certified in Internal Medicine and in the subspecialty of Pulmonary Disease, and was elected to the ASCI in 1980 and to AAP in 1991.


Wagner was born in 1944 in Karachi, Pakistan of fleeing German/Austrian Jewish parents who found themselves there during the Second World War. He moved to Sydney, Australia as an infant where he grew up, receiving a bachelor of medical science degree in 1967 followed by a medical degree from Sydney University in1968. After a year of clinical internship at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in 1969, he took a postdoctoral position with John West in San Diego at 2pm on February 8, 1970. In 1973 he joined the UCSD medical faculty and attained the rank of full Professor in 1984. He has remained at UCSD for his entire subsequent career, which spanned exactly 40 years at the time of writing.

His research interests are in oxygen transport between the environment and the (muscle) mitochondria. For the first 15 years of his research career, this involved studying pulmonary gas exchange, a complex process that greatly interferes with oxygen transport when the lungs are abnormal. To better understand gas exchange, he developed the Multiple Inert Gas Elimination Technique, a computer based method that measures the simultaneous pulmonary elimination of a mixture of some six different inert gases, from which it is possible to calculate the quantitative distribution of ventilation/perfusion ratios throughout the lungs. This technique has been used in basic and clinical research setting in a large number of centers around the world, and remains in use today.


In 1985, by chance, his interests migrated to the skeletal muscles when he noticed a peculiar pattern of behavior of oxygen transport during exercise at altitude. This led to postulating a major role for diffusion of O2 in muscle as a contributor to oxygen transport limitation of maximal exercise. Over several years, he carried out both theoretical and experimental physiological studies showing the importance of muscle O2 diffusion limitation, and how this played a role in determining the overall ability of O2 transport to support exercise.


It soon became evident that the major barrier to muscle diffusion of O2 lay in the size of the capillary/fiber interface and this lead Wagner to initiate an ongoing research program into the regulation of muscle capillarity at the molecular level. Through a variety of molecular approaches, some involving Cre/LoxP gene deletion strategies, he found that the gene VEGF is critical in both maintaining muscle capillarity and increasing it in response to muscle training. He is continuing this research direction today, focused on mechanisms – possibly hypoxic, inflammatory, or other - of VEGF regulation in the muscles of patients with COPD. 

Wagner has published 315 research papers over his career, with 149 of those appearing in APS journals. He has published 118 reviews/book chapters and countless wine recommendations (along with a book on wine appreciation he donated to APS to help raise funds). He was President of the International Society for oxygen Transport to Tissues in 1992/3 and of the American Thoracic Society in 2005/6. Awards received include NIH RCDA (1974-9); Manuel Tapia Lectureship (1990); Franqui Visiting Professorship, Brussels (1990); Distinguished lectureship in Physiology, ACCP (1992); UCSD Faculty Distinguished Lecture (1994); Honorary Doctorate, U. Barcelona, Spain (1999)Robert Grover prize, American Thoracic Society (2000); J. Burns Amberson Lectureship, American Thoracic Society (2001); European Respiratory Society Presidential Award (2001); Edward F. Adolph Lectureship, American Physiological Society (2002); UCSD Distinguished Teaching Award (2002); Raine Visiting Professorip and Lectureship, U. Western Australia (2006); Joseph B. Wolffe Memorial Lectureship, ACSM (2008); Joseph R. Rodarte Award, American Thoracic Society (2009); Sandford Skinner Lectureship, U. Melbourne, Australia (2009).


Since joining in 1974, PDW has been closely associated with the APS in several ways. In addition to publishing nearly half his entire career research output in APS journals, he has served twice on Council – from 1989-1991 and from 2003-2008 (the latter ex officio as chair of the Finance Committee). From 1996 to 2005 he was an Associate editor of the J. Appl. Physiol., and has been on its Editorial Board continuously since 1976. He has been on the editorial board of Physiological Genomics since 2005, was respiration section secretary treasurer in in the 1980’s. He organized the first three intersociety meetings on the Integrative Biology of Exercise  (1992, 1996, 2000), has chaired symposia at EB and served on a local committee for the 2005 IUPS meeting in San Diego. He is an Editor for two of the new APS Comprehensive Physiology series, formerly known as the  Handbooks of Physiology  - one on exercise and one on pulmonary gas exchange. He reviews research papers extensively for several APS and other journals, and continues to serve NIH and several other granting agencies as grant reviewer. Last but not least, he continues to provide APS members with inexpensive wine recommendations every two months.