Gerhard Giebisch, M.D., is Sterling Professor Emeritus of Cellular and Molecular Physiology at the Yale University School of Medicine. He was born and raised in Vienna, Austria, where he attended elementary and high school and received the M.D. degree from the University of Vienna in 1951. Dr. Giebisch’s original career goal was to be an internist, and he was advised by one of his professors, Erwin Deutsch, to first get basic science research training. Dr. Deutsch referred this eager medical student to Franz von Brücke, the Chairman of Pharmacology, who greatly stimulated the young man’s interest in physiology. While still a student, Dr. Giebisch was first introduced to renal physiology by reading a copy of Homer Smith’s Porter Lectures that he had been given. He also read a book by Otto Spühler on modern methods to study renal function, which led him to contact Dr. Spühler and arrange for a three-month period in his laboratory in Zurich. Dr. Giebisch credits this period with Dr. Spühler as pivotal to his decision to devote his life to renal physiology. He returned to Vienna, finished his medical studies, and was appointed Instructor in Pharmacology in 1951. His first original paper was on the effects of mercurial diuretics and was published in 1952.
To improve his English, Dr. Giebisch had been corresponding with a beautiful young woman named Ilse Riebeth, the daughter of close family friends who had emigrated from Austria to Milwaukee. The Riebeth family helped arrange for Dr. Giebisch to obtain a rotating internship at the Milwaukee Hospital during the 1952-1953 academic year. He and Ilse were married in 1952. After completing his internship, Dr. Giebisch moved to the Department of Physiology at Cornell University Medical College in New York to train as a postdoctoral fellow with Robert Pitts from 1953-1954. Dr. Giebisch was Instructor in Physiology at Cornell during 1955-1956, and then returned to Austria to become Assistant Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Vienna in 1956. After only one year, he returned to the Department of Physiology at Cornell, where he was Assistant Professor from 1957-1960, Associate Professor from 1960-1965, and Professor from 1965-1968. In 1968 he was recruited to Yale as Professor and Chairman of Physiology. Dr. Giebisch was named Sterling Professor of Physiology in 1970. He served as Chairman of Physiology from 1968-1973, an important period of growth of the department. Faculty recruited to the department by Dr. Giebisch included Richard Tsien, Emile Boulpaep and John Sachs.
For over 50 years, Dr. Giebisch has devoted his professional career to the study of the mechanisms of renal electrolyte transport and their regulation. He has had a special interest in the renal handling of potassium. He was a pioneer in the use of micropuncture techniques and then patch-clamp methods to study this problem. His work is largely responsible for our current understanding of the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying regulation of renal potassium excretion. Dr. Giebisch’s monumental contributions to renal physiology have been recognized by many honors including the Homer Smith Award of the American Society of Nephrology in 1971, the Johannes Müller Medal of the German Physiological Society in 1980, election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1983, election to the National Academy of Sciences in 1984, election to the Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina in 1988, the Volhard Medal of the German Nephrological Society in 1988, the Ernst Jung Preis für Medizin in 1990, the A.N. Richards Award of the International Society of Nephrology in 1993, the Berliner Award of the American Physiological Society in 1994, the John P. Peters Award of the American Society of Nephrology in 2006, and honorary doctorates from Uppsala University, the University of Bern, the University of Lausanne, the University of Vienna, and the University of Connecticut.
In addition to his enormous scientific contributions, Dr. Giebisch has been an exemplary academic citizen. His many positions have included service as President of the American Society of Nephrology and President of the Society of General Physiologists, as well as innumerable editor and editorial positions, study section memberships, and council positions in academic societies. Dr. Giebisch has also been an exemplary mentor. Dozens of his trainees have achieved success as professors and department chairs around the world.
On a personal level, Dr. Giebisch is widely respected for his integrity, modesty and generosity. A devoted husband and father, his diverse range of interests include music, philosophy, history, mountain climbing, photography, and driving his Porsche. He has earned the universal respect, admiration and affection of his colleagues and friends. We all look forward to many more years of his intellectual contributions and friendship.