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Updated 8:30 AM June 1, 2004



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The luck behind a great discovery

Making a discovery that led to winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry required skill and knowledge, to be sure. But it never would have happened without a dose of luck, said Dr. Peter Agre during the first annual Mary Sue and Kenneth Coleman Life Sciences Lecture May 13.
(Photo by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services)

Agre, professor of biological chemistry and medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, shared the 2003 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for finding channels that facilitate water molecule transport through cell membranes.

These channels, called aquaporins, are essential to all living organisms. Their discovery has led to studies of water channels in bacteria, plants and mammals and allows scientists to search for drugs that can target water channel defects.

"We got into the aquaporin business by serendipity and fairly late," Agre said in the lecture at the Third Annual Life Sciences Institute (LSI) Symposium, held during LSI's grand opening celebration. His laboratory's discovery of these channels happened through "sheer blind luck," he said.

He and his colleagues were searching for proteins that are part of the Rh-factor when they stumbled onto another protein. It turned out to be the water channels, something long sought by researchers.

Following the talk, Agre—who addressed students several times during his lecture—ate lunch with LSI graduate students and four undergraduates who have been brought in for the Perrigo Summer Fellows Program, a 10-week program in which they are studying in the LSI's laboratories.

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