By the time Eduardo Rios (PhD ’85)—fresh from graduation in Uruguay—got to the then Department of Physiology, Chair Paul Horowitz, PhD, had assembled what Rios calls “a Dream Team” of researchers.
Horowitz had trained with the renowned Alan Hodgkin, who earned the 1963 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for defining our current view of the electrical nervous impulse. Afterward, Hodgkin and Horowitz went on to work on muscle.
By 1978, Horowitz was continuing his research in Rochester with Martin Schneider, PhD, well-known since his time as a postdoc for a major discovery along the lines of Hodgkin’s research.
“I went to work with Martin, hardly believing the privilege of getting into this illustrious clan,” says Rios. “The department at that time was a hothouse of thinking and doing. I would have stayed there forever.”
Today, as professor and director of Rush University Medical Center’s Section of Cellular Signaling in Chicago, Rios feels “lucky for having made further progress along the Hodgkin delineated path.” With postdoc Gustavo Brum, he identified a molecule that converts the electrical impulse from nerves to a signal that starts muscle contraction—important because muscles generate force and movement, as well as perform other crucial functions. For example, their massive glucose consumption, if disrupted, leads to high blood sugar and diabetes.
“Diabetes and muscle signals are much in my mind now,” says Rios.
While Rios is happy that findings from his lab have implications for patients, he reluctantly admits that his passion stems primarily from a desire to understand how molecules, cells, and tissues work—as well as the joy of tinkering with electricity, 3D printers, and computers in the lab.
“It’s great that our findings are good for medicine,” he says, “but they would not be possible without the curiosity and joie d’experimenter that motivates every basic scientist.”