In Memoriam: Robert Berliner, "The Dean of Renal Physiology"

Renowned renal physiologist Robert W. Berliner, M.D., emeritus professor of cellular and molecular physiology and a former Dean of Yale School of Medicine, died on February 5 at age 86.

Renowned renal physiologist Robert W. Berliner, M.D., emeritus professor of cellular and molecular physiology and a former Dean of Yale School of Medicine, died on February 5 at age 86.

Berliner made major contributions to the foundations of modern renal physiology and played key roles in shaping American biomedical science. Berliner and his colleagues were instrumental in elucidating the main features of potassium excretion by the kidney. Their pioneering work helped establish early concepts of how potassium, sodium and hydrogen are transported by the kidney, and provided the foundations for later work on single tubules and tubule cells.

“The world of medicine has lost a truly dedicated researcher, educator and administrator,” said Yale School of Medicine Dean David Kessler, M.D. “Bob Berliner served as Dean at Yale School of Medicine at a time of break-neck discoveries and growth in both the investigative and clinical arenas. He will always be remembered for his commitment to being a role model of brilliance, integrity, friendship and mentorship for all around him.”

Berliner was a primary force in making the National Institutes of Health (NIH) one of the leading biomedical scientific institutions in the world. He was invited to join the NIH in 1950 to build the Laboratory of Kidney and Electrolyte Metabolism, and was Chief of the Laboratory for 12 years. Berliner not only did much of his pioneering research in renal physiology at this time, but also was successful in attracting to his laboratory and inspiring a large number of excellent investigators, from both the United States and abroad.

He served as director of intramural research of the National Heart Institute between 1954 and 1968, and later was appointed the NIH Deputy Director for Science. Berliner left the NIH in 1973 to become Dean of the Yale School of Medicine. His activities have also included serving as Director of the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences between 1984 and 1991.

“Dr. Berliner’s own highly creative investigations played a pivotal role in advancing the field of kidney research, especially clarifying the mechanism by which the kidney controls salt and fluid balance.” said Berliner’s friend and colleague Gerhard H. Giebisch, M.D., Sterling Professor of Cellular and Molecular Physiology at the Yale School of Medicine. “As a world renowned authority, he attracted a large number of gifted scientists who assumed leadership positions at academic institutions throughout the world.

A native of New York, Berliner did his undergraduate work at Yale College, after which he went on to Columbia University for his medical education. He did his housestaff training at Presbyterian Hospital and Goldwater Memorial Hospital in New York, and later began his research career at Goldwater. In 1947 he became an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Columbia University, before moving on to the NIH in 1950.

Berliner has been the recipient of numerous honors and awards. These include the Homer E. Smith Award, The Distinguished Alumnus Award of the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, the Ray C. Daggs Award, the A.N. Richards Award of the International Society of Nephrology, and the George M. Kober Medal of the Association of American Physicians. Berliner was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and he received honorary Doctor of Science degrees from Yale and the Medical College of Wisconsin in 1973. Yale also honored him by creating the Robert W. Berliner Chair and the Robert W. Berliner Lectureship in Renal Physiology. Berliner was also active in several scholarly societies, serving as President of the American Society for Clinical Investigation, the American Physiological Society and the American Society of Nephrology.

Berliner is survived by his wife, Leah, their four children, Robert Jr., of Chicago; and Alice Hadler, Henry, and Nancy of New Haven; nine grandchildren, and his brother, William. A private funeral will be held in New Haven on February 10 and a memorial service will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Student Financial Aid at the Yale School of Medicine, c/o Pam Nyiri, 367 Cedar Street, Room 201, New Haven, CT 06510, or to The Nature Conservancy, 4245 North Fairfax Drive, Suite 100, Arlington, VA, 22203-1606

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