David C. Dawson

David C. Dawson

I was raised in Pittsburgh, PA. during what became known as the “golden years” of the American economy (mid 40’s to mid 70’s) when postwar prosperity was widely shared. I developed three strong interests; electricity, music and running. My cousin, Sam, a Ph.D. electrical engineer, introduced me to the wonders of electricity. I played the guitar, sang with a doo-wop group and placed second in the Pennsylvania State half-mile finals in 1962. I attended the University of Pittsburgh on a combined academic and athletic scholarship, majored in Electrical Engineering and met Kay, my wife of 50 years.

Kenneth Cummins, an inspiring Biology teacher, introduced me to a physiologist, Charles Ralph, who became my Ph.D. mentor at Pitt. I conducted an electrophysiological study of retinal projections to the frog pituitary, but also became interested in the energetics of biological transport and the demonstration by Hans Ussing of “active transport.” I studied biological transport and thermodynamics with Fletcher Osterle at Carnegie Mellon and Stanley Schultz at the Pitt Medical School, and I conducted my first Ussing Chamber experiment late one night with Stan’s student, Ray Frizzell.  A Summer Membrane Biophysics course in Woods Hole in 1969 offered exposure to squid axons and transport luminaries.

A postdoctoral position with Peter Curran at Yale provided total immersion in transport biology and introductions to Gerhard Giebisch, Emile Boulpaep and Joe Hoffman, as well as Dick Tsien, Larry Cohen, Knox Chandler and Gordon Sheppard. Kay and I welcomed our first daughter, Katie in Yale-New Haven hospital.

Gerhard Giebisch, facilitated my appointment as Assistant Professor (University of Iowa), connecting with Adrian Hogben, Iowa chair, via Roy Forster(Dartmouth), a colleague of Adrian’s at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory, where I became Director roughly 20 years later. Phillip Steinmetz , Chair of Nephrology, recruited Qais Al-Awqati; and we started a transport journal club. Rich Maurer, Kurt Beam, Jack Kaplan, Mike Jennings and Don Campbell joined the faculty, creating a first rate environment of “young Turks,” and we welcomed our second daughter, Elizabeth, in the University of Iowa Hospital. In 1979 I began a nearly 40-year association with MDIBL, working on ion transport along side David Evans, John Forrest, Jim Boyer and Frank Epstein, Michael Field and Ray Frizzell.

In 1981, I was recruited to the University of Michigan by Jack Kostyo. In 1989 the cystic fibrosis gene was cloned and a collaboration with Francis Collins changed my career. I began biophysical studies of CFTR and in 1999 I was recruited to Chair the Department of Physiology & Pharmacology at Oregon Health & Science University. There we used covalent modification to map residues of the CFTR pore, began a molecular modeling collaboration with Mark Sansom (Oxford, UK) and investigated the thermal stability of mutant CFTRs. I founded a program in Chemical Biology and recruited organic chemists who are now collaborating with Physiologists and Pharmacologists. Looking back, I feel very fortunate to have been supported throughout my career, not only by Kay, but also by talented and innovative investigators, including terrific grad students and postdocs.