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University Of Texas Researcher Earns APS Bowditch Award

James D. Stockand to deliver Henry Pickering Bowditch Lecture Research aimed at understanding hypertension

WASHINGTON – Epithelial sodium channels (ENaC) are hardly household words, but if these channels are not working right, the serious condition of high blood pressure (hypertension) may result, putting the sufferer at risk for heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure and kidney disease.

Approximately 30% of the U.S. adult population suffers from hypertension, but about one-third of them don’t even know it, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC listed the disease as a primary or contributing cause of death for 277,000 Americans in 2002.

James D. Stockand, a researcher at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, studies epithelial sodium channels in the cells of the kidney, lungs and colon. His research may lead to a better understanding of how these cells regulate salt and could one day be used to control hypertension.

“It’s not going to happen tomorrow, but this research will allow people doing translational research to better the treatment methods for hypertension,” Dr. Stockand said. The American Physiological Society has awarded Stockand the 2007 Henry Pickering Bowditch Memorial Award for early-career achievement. The award goes to a scientist younger than 42 years whose accomplishments are both original and outstanding. It is the Society’s second-highest award.

Dr. Stockand, an associate professor at his university, will present the Bowditch lecture “New insight into the regulation of ENaC by small G proteins and phosphatidylinositides,” at 5:45 p.m., Sunday, April 29, at the APS session of Experimental Biology 2007 in Ballroom B the Washington Convention Center. The APS plans an entire track on ion channels, underlining the importance of this area of research.

Cellular function and salt

Cells are dynamic units which allow in nutrients while barring unwanted substances. Cells achieve this dynamic activity in part through various ion channels. Ion channels, first discovered about 50 years ago, are microscopic gates comprised of proteins on the cell membrane which control what enters and leaves. Some ion channels regulate water, while others regulate potassium, and so on.

Because they regulate what gets into cells, they are also the favorite target of toxins, for example from venomous snakes. They are also the favorite target of drugs developed to fight disease.

Epithelial sodium channels, which regulate sodium into and out of the cell, were first described in 1991. If sodium channels are too active, more salt gains entry to the cells, ultimately causing an increase in blood pressure. On the other hand, if the channels are not active enough, it can lead to salt wasting and hypotension, or abnormally low blood pressure.

A career in research

From the time he was a child, Stockand wanted to know how things work, often taking things apart to figure them out. His road to a career in biology began, ironically enough, when his high school biology teacher tired of his mischievous behavior. She removed him from the class and assigned him an independent research project to work on instead 

He loved doing the independent project and headed to a career in research. Dr. Stockand attended Texas A&M as an undergrad, did his graduate work at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and his postdoctoral work in physiology and biophysics at Emory University.

Stockand has developed new biophysical approaches to research sodium channels and has made advances in the use of fluorescent microscopy to aid in this research. His laboratory is equipped to perform real-time measurement of ion channel activity.

Ion channel research is playing a major role in APS-sponsored sessions at Experimental Biology this year. At 5:45 p.m., Saturday, April 28, Frances Mary Ashcroft of the University of Oxford will present the Walter B. Cannon lecture “ATP-sensitive potassium channels and disease: From molecule to malady. The Walter B. Cannon Award is the Society’s highest award, given to an outstanding physiological scientist selected by the Society’s president elect.

Physiology is the study of how molecules, cells, tissues and organs function in health and disease. Established in 1887, the American Physiological Society (APS) was the first U.S. society in the biomedical sciences field. The Society represents more than 10,500 members and publishes 15 peer-reviewed journals with a worldwide readership.