Richard Malvin

Richard Malvin

Dr. Richard Malvin, Professor Emeritus at the University of  Michigan, is interviewed in this October 2010 in this segment of "Living History of Physiology" by APS Executive Director Dr. Martin Frank. Dr. Malvin has been a member of the American Physiological Society since 1960, and a faculty member at the University of Michigan since 1956. He has had a very illustrious research career, and he is probably best known for his development of the stop-flow technique to measure renal function. Dr. Malvin has published more than 150 papers.

Dr. Malvin says he's not sure how his interest in science started, but he credits New York with being one his greatest influences. He said for five cents he could go to all the museums in the city, and the library system was second to none. His parents stressed to him that getting an education was one of the most important things in life. His high school education was superb, he said; his chemistry teacher made science come alive, and Dr. Malvin said he always made sure to take a course with him every year.

After high school, he enlisted in the navy in a program to become a  radar technician about six months before the war ended in 1945. Prior to this,Dr. Malvin had applied to Ohio State University, and was accepted, but he had to write back to tell them he was going into the navy. The university staff wrote that his spot would be held for him once he returned from the war, but when he did get back to the states and applied, he says the university essentially asked him who he was. Since it was late in August no University except McGill was a possibility; their term starts almost a month after US  Universities. But, his High School was late in sending McGill his transcripts and he received a rejection. Dr. Malvin then drove from New York to Montreal and searched out the Dean's office. Fortunately he was able to talk to the dean of McGill University about his misplaced transcripts and was then accepted as a student and attended McGill University, receiving a BSc in 1950.

After his undergraduate career, he applied to the Department of Physiology at New York University and was accepted. However, on his first day, he realized the Medical School had no PhD program in physiology. He was actually accepted to the School of Dentistry, the only school granting advanced degrees in physiology. Dr. Malvin received a MS in physiology at NYU and transferred to University of Cincinnati for his PhD in Physiology.

The research Dr. Malvin performed at the University of Cincinnati  was renal physiology. He studied the effects of bicarbonate on phosphate reabsorption, which was a big problem in those days. His studies focused on the question about whether they were interrelated.

In 1956 Dr. Malvin joined the faculty at the University of Michigan where he has remained for the rest of his career. The Department Chair, Horace Davenport, required all of the professors to attend lectures of the other professors in physiology. Some were interesting, but a few were deadly dull. He remembers during one boring lecture, the professor drew an EKG on the chalkboard, which is a series of lines with time as the abscissa. He said he thought if he could do that with the kidney, he would know where along the kidney tubules the urine was stopped and altered. He then realized that he would have to stop the flow, wait a few minutes and then collect the urine in serial samples. This was when Dr. Malvin developed the stop-flow technique.

Dr. Malvin has also been heavily involved in promoting the humane use of animals in research. He describes a story in which he worked in a lab with large kennels for dogs, big cages for cats, dog runs, and all the good workings of an animal hospital. He went into the animal room one morning and found it in shambles. There were several cat cages each stuffed with 2 or 3 three dogs, feces on the floor and dirt strewn all over the facility. The next day in a spread in a major NY newspaper, there was a story with photos about how the lab tortured animals and mistreated them keeping them in filthy and crowded cages. It was determined that lab attendant allowed people into the animal quarters late at night. They created the mess. Dr. Malvin says this was the beginning of his interest in countering the anti-vivisectionist activities.