Peter Agre is a physician and molecular biologist who was awarded the 2003 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, which he shared with Roderick MacKinnon, for his discovery of aquaporins. These water-channel proteins move water molecules through the cell membrane.
For the past ten years Peter Agre’s lab has focused upon the role of aquaporins in malaria. As Director of the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute, he also serves as Program Director of the International Center of Excellence for Malaria Research in Zimbabwe and Zambia.
“I’m enthusiastic about cross-boundary research activities and try to do the best I can,” Agre stated upon being named a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor in 2014. “Moreover, mentoring bright young scholars from throughout Johns Hopkins University is a joy and a privilege. Advocating for Johns Hopkins researchers at national and international levels is something in which I take great pride.”
For Agre, cross-disciplinary research is inherent to the Johns Hopkins experience. Ever since he arrived in 1970 for his first year in medical school and earned his research chops in the Cholera Research Laboratory on the Bayview campus and in the Department of Pharmacology on the basic science campus in East Baltimore, “I felt from the start that I was sort of free to go to whatever part of Johns Hopkins things would take me to in terms of research.”
His early career led him to follow Johns Hopkins professors to Case Western Reserve University (for his medical residency) and to the University of North Carolina (for a hematology fellowship), but he returned to Hopkins in 1981 as a research associate in the School of Medicine’s Department of Cell Biology; by 1984, he was recruited as an assistant professor of hematology in the Department of Medicine. His multi-disciplinary training has reaped big rewards, including being co-recipient of the 2003 Nobel Prize in chemistry for discovering aquaporins, the membrane proteins that transport water into and out of cells. The Nobel came while Agre was a professor in the departments of Biological Chemistry and Medicine and worked with William Guggino, a professor of physiology.
Since 2008, he’s continued bridging disciplines as the director of the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute. Though the institute’s center is located in the Bloomberg School of Public Health, “we have malaria scientists throughout Johns Hopkins University, including the Homewood campus, the School of Medicine, and even in Africa,” says Agre, citing examples from Chemistry, Biology, Medicine, and Public Health. “Our research ranges from mosquito biology to drug and vaccine development to epidemiology to field studies in Zimbabwe and Zambia.”
Agre is also very active in scientific diplomacy, opening doors to countries with limited diplomatic relations through scientific discussions and partnerships. While serving from 2009-2011 as President and Chair of the Board of Advisors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Agre became worked closely with the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy. Working with AAAS Chief International Officer, Vaughan Turekian, and former Scientific Advisor to the U.S. Secretary of State, Norman P. Neureiter, Agre led a series of science diplomacy visits to countries with adversarial relationships to the U.S. The objective of each trip was to foster exchanges and collaborations on peaceful scientific projects and thereby reduce tensions. So far, he has visited Iran and Myanmar, and Cuba and North Korea multiple times.
In addition to the 2003 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Agre was elected to membership in the National Academy of Sciences in 2000, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2003, the American Philosophical Society in 2004, the National Academy of Medicine in 2005, and the American Society for Microbiology in 2011. Agre has received 19 honorary doctorates from universities around the world, including Japan, Norway, Greece, Mexico, Hungary, and the United States.
Agre received his B.A. in Chemistry from Augsburg College in Minneapolis and his M.D. from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. He completed his clinical training in Internal Medicine at Case Western Reserve University’s Case Medical Center under Charles C.J. Carpenter. This was followed by a Hematology-Oncology fellowship at the North Carolina Memorial Hospital. Agre returned to the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine to join the lab of Vann Bennett in the Department of Cell Biology.