Rafael Rubio, professor at Universidad Autonoma de San Luis Potosi in Mexico and emeritus professor at the University of Virginia, is interviewed in January 2010 in this segment of “Living History of Physiology” by Dr. Maureen Knabb. Dr. Rubio has been a professor at UASLP for 13 years. His undergraduate work was done in Mexico City and only influenced by Dr. Arturo Rosenblueth and Walter B. Cannon, for whom he was a lab technician working on cardiovascular research. Dr. Rubio has published almost 200 articles and book chapters in his life, 25 of those coming before he even obtained a bachelor’s degree. He was a full professor of physiology at the University of Virginia until 1996 when he returned to Mexico, where he is a professor of physiology at UASLP. His research focuses on the mechanism of coupling cardiac function and coronary blood flow.
Born in Mexico during a time of civil war, his family eventually migrated to Mexico City. His father loved bull fighting and used to organize fights in cities around Queretaro, Mexico. When Dr. Rubio was five, he said he thought he might want to be a bull fighter, but eventually he realized that he hated it and instead wanted to pursue his passion for music. That did not work out for him, either. He said he originally became interested in science at 16 years old when he found an opening for a kid who wanted to work a few hours in a laboratory cleaning and organizing.
He arrived at the university where Arturo Rosenblueth was the head of the lab. Dr. Rosenblueth promised Dr. Rubio the job, but only if he promised to go to school and pursue an education there, to which Dr. Rubio agreed. He said the lab was very small and the few people who did occupy the lab would discuss their experiments out loud. Among the people there was Walter B. Cannon, who Dr. Rubio took to be a nice, gentle, old man, since he had no idea who he was. He was eventually told that Cannon was a former chairman of the Department of Physiology at Harvard University and that Dr. Rosenblueth had worked with him. Cannon retired and traveled to Mexico City, having applied to spend a year doing research in Dr. Rosenblueth’s lab. Dr. Rubio eventually became Cannon’s technician, taking cats and cleaning them for Cannon after he would perform spinal cord surgery. Because Cannon was an older man at the time, Dr. Rubio said his hands would shake terribly, and when he finally became frustrated, he asked Dr. Rubio if he wanted to try to perform the surgery since Cannon could not anymore. This is how Dr. Rubio said Walter B. Cannon influenced the rest of his life.
After working with Cannon, he stayed in Rosenblueth’s lab and went to school, but did not really know what he wanted to do. He improvised his own training. After finally obtaining his bachelor’s degree, he went to interview in Cleveland for a graduate program, where the interviewer asked him why he was wasting his time applying for a program that would train him to do what he already knew how to do. Dr. Rubio said he knew he needed more formal training, so he stayed there for two years. He started working with Bob Berne in Cleveland, moved to UVA for about 35 years, and then in1996 he moved back to Mexico, where he remains active in his professorship and research focused on understanding the molecular mechanism by which flow stimulates coronary endothelial cells and modulates cardiac function and metabolism.