John Oates: A closer look pg. 2
A broad grin creeps across his face when he is asked how long he’ll keep all this up. “As long as I’ve got ideas,” he chuckles.
Sowing the seeds
The ideas started coming early. As a young medical student at the Bowman Gray School of Medicine of Wake Forest College, Oates had the option of writing a paper or doing a research project for the physiology course.
“A group of my friends and I decided to test whether or not peritoneal dialysis would be beneficial for kidney failure,” he recalls. “At the time, that idea hadn’t been introduced clinically.”
The group had only limited access to laboratory equipment, but the physiology department had an excess of electrocardiogram machines. The bright medical students reasoned that they could use the EKG to look for effects of elevated potassium—one way that kidney failure leads to a fatal outcome.
Their experiments in dogs showed that peritoneal dialysis prevented elevated potassium following renal failure. The taste of research whet Oates’s appetite, and he went looking for more.
What prompts a medical student to seek opportunities to study potassium and the heart?
“I guess I was always curious,” Oates says, recalling his eastern North Carolina childhood spent exploring, camping, sailing and reading adventure novels.
“I think he’s much more curious than most,” says Robert A. Branch, M.D., chief of Clinical Pharmacology at the University of Pittsburgh, who worked closely with Oates for 20 years. “He’s logical; he’s well-informed; but primarily I think his driving force is curiosity.”
“He has an inquisitive mind—a very, very inquisitive mind,” says L. Jackson Roberts II, M.D., professor of Pharmacology and Medicine at Vanderbilt.
When in 1955 one of the cardiologists at Wake Forest turned down his research proposal, Oates approached the chair of the Biochemistry department, Camillo Artom, M.D., Ph.D.
“I was a naïve student who thought I could do anything,” Oates says.