Peter Agre, born 1949, discovered "channels" that transport water through cell membranes, garnering him a 2003 Nobel Prize. Studies of the channels have helped in understanding kidney disease.
All living matter is made up of cells. A single human being has as many as the stars in a galaxy, about one hundred thousand million. The various cells – e.g. muscle cells, kidney cells and nerve cells – act together in an intricate system in each one of us. Through pioneering discoveries concerning the water and ion channels of cells, Nobel Laureates Peter Agre and Roderick MacKinnon have contributed to fundamental chemical knowledge on how cells function. They have opened our eyes to a fantastic family of molecular machines: channels, gates and valves all of which are needed for the cell to function.
To maintain even pressure in the cells it is important that water can pass through the cell wall. This has been known for a long time. The appearance and function of these pores, remained for a long time as one of the classical unsolved problems of biochemistry. It was not until around 1990 that Peter Agre discovered the first water channel. Like so much else in the living cell, it was all about a protein.
The medical consequences of Agre’s and MacKinnon’s discoveries are also important. A number of diseases can be attributed to poor functioning in the water and ion channels of the human body. With the help of fundamental knowledge of what they look like and how they work, there are now new possibilities for developing new and more effective pharmaceuticals.
Visit the Nobel Prize website to continue reading about the work of Peter Agre.
Excerpted with permission, www.nobelprize.org