Wolfhard Almers, Ph.D., senior scientist at Oregon Health & Science University's Vollum Institute who studies the intricate communication between nerve and endocrine cells, has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences.
Almers has been with the Vollum since 1999 after serving as a biology professor at the University of Heidelberg in Germany and as director of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Research at the prestigious Max-Planck Institute, also in Germany. He called his election Tuesday as one of the Academy's 72 new members and 18 foreign associates from 16 countries "a great honor."
"I am very pleased and very excited," said Almers, who added that he hopes the honor enhances "the visibility of our local scientific community, and will draw attention to the excellence of OHSU."
According to the Academy, members are elected in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research, and membership is considered one of the highest honors in American science and engineering. With Almers' election, OHSU now has two scientists who are members of the Academy: Richard Goodman, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Vollum Institute, was elected to the Academy in 2002 for his work in gene regulation and genomics.
OHSU President Peter Kohler, M.D., said this morning the honor "illustrates the growing national reputation of OHSU scientists" in addition to recognizing Almers' expertise.
Almers examines the molecular machinery used by nerve cells to assemble and release packets of molecules that allow them to communicate with one another. "A nerve cell in our brain talks by releasing small packets of molecules onto other nerve cells," he explained. "Each packet, also called a 'vesicle,' is a word in the conversation. The smaller the packets, the more can be released, and the more packets, the richer the conversation."
Almers said his research will focus in the future on microscopic methods he's developed for watching the release of vesicles in real time and in live cells. "Now we can observe how it is altered by molecular mutations, including mutations that cause disease," he said.
Goodman said Almers is "one of the leading figures in the world in the study of neurotransmitter secretion."
"He has developed many of the approaches that have moved this field forward," Goodman said. "Abnormalities in neurotransmitter secretion are central to many neurological and psychiatric diseases. Dr. Almers is generally viewed as a bold cell biologist, rigorous thinker and technical innovator."
Goodman also noted that Almers developed the concept of the "fusion pore" and has characterized the molecular events that occur immediately before and after transmitter secretion. "His technical advances have allowed, for the first time, an analysis of individual synaptic vesicles as they dock and fuse prior to secretion," he said.
Almers received his doctorate in physiology from the University of Rochester in New York in 1971 and attended graduate school at Duke University. He completed undergraduate studies at the Freie Universtaet in Berlin. He later spent three years as a postdoctoral fellow at the Physiological Laboratory at Cambridge University and joined the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at the University of Washington as an assistant professor in 1974 before rising to professor in 1984.
Those elected Tuesday to the National Academy of Sciences bring the total number of active members to 2,013, according to the NAS. Established in 1863 by a congressional act of incorporation signed by Abraham Lincoln, the organization of scientists and engineers is dedicated to the advancement of science and its use for the general welfare. It acts as an official adviser to the federal government, upon request, in any matter of science or technology.
Additional information about the Academy and its members is available online at www.nasonline.org.