The University of Minnesota Medical School has landed a Nobel laureate -- at least in an advisory role. Peter C. Agre of Johns Hopkins University, winner of the 2003 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, has agreed to a one-year, renewable appointment as senior adviser to President Eric Kaler for biomedical research.
It's an uncompensated position. Agre will continue his full-time appointment at Johns Hopkins University. Still, securing his involvement and leveraging his connections for Minnesota biomedicine is a coup.
The arrangement is among the gifts of the late Carl Platou, founder of the Medical School's Board of Visitors, who died May 29. In the last year of his life, Platou assiduously courted Agre for a role in the interdisciplinary Biomedical Discovery District that is rising near TCF Bank Stadium. When Platou called me a few days before he died, it was to assure me that a contract with Agre was in the works -- and that it would be a big plus for Minnesota.
Agre, 63, is a Northfield native and Augsburg College graduate who leads the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute. His Nobel prize was awarded jointly with Roderick MacKinnon for their discovery of aquaporins, channels that regulate and facilitate water molecule transport through cell membranes.
Kaler told the university's Board of Regents Friday that Agre would identify strengths and weaknesses in the biomedical research program, recommend steps for improvement, assist in the Academic Health Center's external review process, and identify possible new partnerships between Minnesota faculty members and other researchers worldwide.
If can do all of that as an unpaid volunteer, he will be among the best gifts Platou ever solicited for his beloved "U."