Robert D. Wurster

Robert D. Wurster

While attending high school, I simultaneously took evening and summer courses at Indiana University extension college. After three years of high school, I went to Purdue University. There, I began working part-time for a physiology professor. I assisted with physiological research in human temperature regulation for the US military and the space programs. As an undergraduate, I took graduate courses in physiology, environmental physiology and endocrinology.

Following three years at Purdue, I graduated and became a graduate student in Walter Randall’s program at Stritch School of Medicine, Loyola University Chicago.  While he transitioned to cardiac studies, Randall basically turned over much of his human temperature regulation research to me. I focused on the role of brain and skin temperatures in the control of sweating and cutaneous blood flow. During this time, I also became involved in studies on neural control of the cardiovascular system. In evenings and weekends, I worked with a thoracic surgeon, learning cardiac surgical techniques which later became valuable research tools. As a graduate student, I had minors in the neuroanatomy, neurophysiology and neuropharmacology. Starting in my third year in the graduate program, I became a regular lecturer and laboratory instructor for Loyola’s medical students on the human nervous system anatomy and function. During this time, I also took graduate courses in control theory and cybernetics from the bioengineering programs associated with Northwestern University and University of Illinois-Chicago.

Following my graduate training, I became an NIH Postdoctoral Fellow in Germany.

In the Physiology Institute in Marburg, I mastered single fiber recording technique, studying, in particular, the properties of temperature receptors. Then, I moved to the Kerckhoff Institute of the Max Planck Gesellschaft at Bad Nauheim. There I developed intracellular neurophysiological techniques in order to assess nerve cell physical properties.  We studied properties of spinal motoneurons and Renshaw cells as well thermal receptors. Both at Marburg and Bad Nauheim, I was a physiology laboratory instructor for medical student physiology courses. While in Germany, I was offered the opportunity to stay and become a permanent, career scientist and faculty member in physiology.

However, upon completion of my NIH fellowship, I returned to the United States and considered several different professional opportunities in physiology. With the opening of a new medical center, I decided to return to Stritch where Randall was still chairman. Early on, I spent several months learning about computer programing at the Digital Equipment Corporation’s head quarters in Mass. Upon returning to Loyola, I put together a training manual for a “high level” computer language for Digital Corporation Computers.

For many years, I was one of the main lecturers and laboratory instructors in almost all areas of physiology. I was then appointed to be the director of the physiology graduate training program, which became funded by an NIH training grant.  In Boston as a visiting scientist, I mastered the patch clamp biophysical techniques to recording single ion channels. Back at Loyola, my research focused on the properties of the nervous system involved in cardiovascular control.  For several years, I was apart of a NIH Program Grant and later NIH RO1 research.  With my growing interest in neurophysiology, I initiated and ran an interdisciplinary graduate program in neuroscience and helped organize a neuroscience research institute at Loyola. I also initiated and ran an integrated medical neuroscience course which was a required part of our medical students’ training.  I co-authored a neuroscience textbook for primarily medical students, which was sold for several years (two additions). I also became part of a charter board of scientists who organized the Society for Neuroscience.  At “home”, I developed an interest in the clinical application of the knowledge of the nervous system. I became a member of rehabilitation research and engineering group for the Veterans Administration at Hines, Illinois.  Furthermore, as a basic scientist, I became a member of the Department of Neurological Surgery and also the Department of Otorhinolaryngology where I became directors of research.  Eventually, I was promoted to professor in these departments, in addition to the Physiology Department. In Neurosurgery, I became director of the resident training and for a short time was promoted to Vice-Chairman, a rather unusual role for a basic scientist. Working with a neurosurgeon, we were earlier developers of intraoperative human deep brain recording, lesioning and stimulation techniques at Loyola. These techniques are still being used for treatment of Parkinson disease and some seizures. I also championed studies of the role of ion channels in brain tumor proliferation.  More recently, I resurrected my interest in spinal cord injury with development of methods to restored function of the spinal cord even following complete transections.

Currently, with my proposed paper at the upcoming Chicago Exptl. Biology meeting, I am revisiting earlier (30 years ago), unpublished studies that I did on baroreceptor reflexes during exercise. These canine studies strongly suggest that the new insight into the roles of arterial baroreceptors and muscle chemoreceptors in arterial blood pressure regulation. I found that each have differential reflex effects on heart rate control and blood pressure control.

During my career I have published about 200 publications. However, I am most proud of having trained in my laboratory over 50 Ph.D., MS and research fellows. Several have become active career scientists and academic physicians. Some held chairs in Physiology Departments and one even becoming a President of the American Physiological Society.  Others have become prominent science leaders in their respective home countries (United States, Canada, Korea, China, Germany, Finland, Egypt, Japan, etc).  I have been active on NIH grant review panels and on the boards of scientific society panels. I have also had lectureships in many universities.

Brief summary

My BS degree is in Biological Science from Purdue University were I was introduced to Physiology as a technician for a physiologist. My Ph.D. training was in Walter Randall’s Physiology Department, Stritch School of Medicine, Loyola University Chicago. There I studied human thermoregulation and got exposed to neural control, especially of the cardiovascular system. Then I became an NIH Postdoctoral Fellow in Germany studying single fibers recording of small nerve fibers (Marburg) and intracellular nerve recordings (Kerckhoff Institute of the Max Planck Gesellschaft, Bad Nauheim). Following completion of my fellowship, I returned to the USA and became a faculty member of Randall’s Department of Physiology. This lead to my eventually becoming a Professor of Physiology and finally also a Professor of Neurological Surgery. Much of my career science involved electrophysiological studies of neurons controlling the cardiovascular system, the role of ion channels in brain tumor proliferation and the studies on spinal cord repair. I was a physiology and neuroscience teacher for a total of several thousand medical and graduate students. I published over 200 scientific papers including a textbook of neuroscience. I trained in my laboratory over 50 future scientists and clinical experts. I was active in the administration of the Neurological Surgery Department and participated in many NIH scientific reviews as members of study sections. At Loyola, I created a neuroscience programs, including an institute, a graduate neuroscience program and ,in part, the Society for Neuroscience.  My current research interests involve neural control of the heart and repair of spinal cord injury.