May 31, 2000
Peter N. Devreotes, Ph.D., a world authority on the chemical signaling that takes place between cells, is the new head of the Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, effective June 1, 2000.
The author of more than 140 research papers in respected journals and a professor of biological chemistry at Hopkins, Devreotes has carved a name for himself primarily as a scientist but also as a capable administrator and teacher. For nine years, he directed the Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology Graduate Program, the School of Medicine's largest graduate research program, spanning six departments and supporting more than 150 students. Students consistently rank him at the top of all the graduate faculty in the basic sciences. He's a winner of the Medical School Graduate Teaching Award.
Following his undergraduate training in physics at the University of Wisconsin, Devreotes earned a Ph.D. in biophysics from Hopkins. His postdoctoral work at the the University of Chicago traced the pathways muscle cells use to synthesize receptors for the key nerve transmitter, acetylcholine. His research has advanced the study of neuromuscular diseases such as muscular dystrophy and myasthenia gravis.
Once at Hopkins as an assistant professor in 1980, Devreotes began what has become his life's work: explaining how cells sense and respond to attractant molecules released by other cells — a process called chemotaxis. Chemotaxis orchestrates the movements of cells in developing embryos, the migrations of immune cells to sites of inflammation, the arrival of replacement cells in wound-healing and new blood vessel growth. Completely understanding chemotaxis, Devreotes says, "would be of tremendous value both in basic biology and therapy for diseases from autoimmune disorders to cancer."
Devreotes, 51, has long used a novel organism in his studies — Dictyostelium discoideum — a single-celled amoeba that, at the proper signal, can congregate by the thousands into an elegant, stalked reproductive body. In the past 15 years, Devreotes has shown that the processes cells use in chemotaxis are the same basic ones cells use to sense hormones, nerve transmitters and chemical odors. He's discovered cell receptors for chemoattractants as well as the genes that code for them. By methodically disrupting those and other genes crucial to chemotaxis, he's provided an idea of the roles they play in the overall process.
"The Devreotes lab has given biology unprecedented insight into these fundamental, important cell pathways," says William Agnew, Ph.D., head of the Department of Physiology. As chair of the search committee, Agnew reviewed credentials of more than 70 applicants for the position.
Devreotes succeeds Thomas D. Pollard, M.D., who directed the department for 11 years.
Related Web site: http://www.med.jhu.edu/biochem/devreotes.htm