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PSS Winter '10

PULTENEY STREET SURVEY - WINTER 2010

Dr. Edward Tapper '64

My career in medicine was influenced by a number of life events. I thought that I might become a practicing physician before I came to Hobart but a summer high school experience in basic medical research had a major effect on the course of my life. Medical school took me along the path of clinical medicine, dabbling from time to time in basic research, focusing on becoming a practicing physician.

medical research

I completed training in internal medicine and the first year of a post-doctoral fellowship in gastroenterology and liver disease when I was required to do some type of clinical or basic science research. Since I had enjoyed the challenges of basic research many years previously, I began a project in a physiology lab with one of my clinical faculty advisers. The first few months in the lab gave me information that my adviser thought was either a lab error or certainly contrary to what was previously known. After many months of continued reading and contact with many authorities in anatomy, neuropharmacology and physiology I recognized that I had discovered a part of a developing new discipline-the enteric nervous system, the “little brain” of the gastrointestinal tract.

In short, it was thought that nerves in the GI tract might alter how electrolytes and water move into the body, but it wasn’t known how that occurred. More than 30 of the neurotransmitters in the brain also occur in the GI track and, yet, the GI track can operate independent of the brain. I found that the nerves that contact intestinal cells regulate these cells and also regulate their own release as well as the intricate, complex interactions of other neurotransmitters that effect intestinal cells. A few years in academic medicine teaching, caring for patients, conducting clinical trials and in the lab allowed me to take my original lab research to fruition and a new treatment for crippling diabetic diarrhea. My discovery led to a new area of medical research and an editorial review in the American Journal of Physiology, the leading journal in this area of medical science.

My medical career took another change when I recognized that clinical medicine and research was the basis for developing innovative new drugs. From that time forward to now I’ve enjoyed taking leadership roles in bring valuable drugs to common use. I’ve had an opportunity to set some standards in drug development as well as turning around the global productivity of some pharmaceutical companies. The convergence of clinical medicine, research plus a sense of business organizations has allowed me to provide advanced medical care for people with ulcer diseases, inflammatory bowel diseases, hepatitis and numerous other diseases, including a drug to improve survival of kidney transplants. My newest endeavor is assisting a local medical school move basic research more rapidly into translational medical research and eventual drug development.

Opportunities to make advancements in medicine have allowed me to express what is important to me: care for others, search for excellence and innovation plus fulfill a desire to make our world better through my work.