John Oates: A closer look  pg. 8

An example of Oates’ extensive collection of wildflower photos.  These Michigan Lilies were found on the Middle Tennessee farm of Vanderbilt colleague Mildred Stahlman, M.D., but have now disappeared, Oates says.
Creativity has characterized Oates’s distinguished scientific career. Among his many discoveries, those in the field of prostaglandin biology are most noted. When he became interested in these widespread signaling molecules, he traveled on sabbatical to learn firsthand from a leader in the field—the Karolinska Institute’s Bengt Samuelsson, M.D., Ph.D., who went on to win the Nobel Prize for his work.

Oates has been “a trailblazer” for the development of new methodologies that contributed to the teasing apart of the components of prostaglandin physiology, Branch says.

Prostaglandins are members of a large family of molecules called eicosanoids that are derived from fatty acids, predominantly arachidonic acid, and that have varied and profound physiological and pathophysiological effects. The eicosanoid field started with the discovery of two compounds and now boasts over 2,000 family members, Roberts says.

“His group would develop a new method that would allow that area to be developed, and then they would develop another new method and so on. It was painstaking work, and they put a lot of pieces of the jigsaw puzzle into the prostaglandin-eicosanoid story,” Branch says.

The Oates team defined the role of prostaglandins in renin release by the kidney, demonstrating the importance of prostaglandins as a pathway parallel to the adrenergic nervous system in controlling renin release and regulating blood pressure.

The group also discovered that the prostaglandin PGD2 is the principle prostaglandin mediator in human mast cells. That finding is being explored in drug development for allergic rhinitis and asthma, Oates says.

As to his current research projects, he says they’re at a “speculative stage,” and with a sly chuckle adds, “these are exciting times.”

A lasting legacy

Oates’s contributions have been honored many times over. He is a member of the prestigious Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Science, the adviser to the nation on matters of biomedical science, medicine and health. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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