Maurice Burg, MD
April 24, 2022
Maurice B. ("Moe") Burg, M.D., a physician-scientist in the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and member of the National Academy of Sciences, died on April 24, 2022, in Miami Beach, Florida. He was 91. His research studies formed the basis for much of what medical students are taught in contemporary medical schools about how the kidney works.
Starting in the 1960s, Dr. Burg showed that it was possible to isolate the tiny elements of the kidney, renal tubules, that together determine the aggregate function of the kidney, and developed fundamental techniques for measuring the transport function of these elements, each consisting of fewer than 1000 cells. Dr. Burg exploited these methods to identify the transport processes in the kidney responsible for regulation of excretion of salt, water, glucose, and amino acids. His work also defined kidney transport mechanism responsible for regulation of body acid-base balance. All of this work became the foundation for an understanding of kidney function that underlies much of contemporary nephrology.
Later in his career, Dr. Burg turned to the topic of osmotic regulation in the kidney, asking how the cells of the kidney medulla can survive and function in an environment in which the total solute concentration is as much as 10 times greater than the rest of the body and in which urea concentrations reach 1 molar, normally enough to denature proteins. He and his coworkers discovered four organic compounds, produced in the kidney, that together stabilize proteins in the face of high ionic content and high urea concentration. His group and their collaborators went on to discover the enzymes and transporters responsible for the accumulation of these osmolytes, and discovered a transcription factor, now called Nfat5, responsible for osmotic regulation of the enzymes.
Dr. Burg's influence on the field of renal physiology extended far beyond his own experimental studies. He trained a large number of eminent scientists and inspired many others as he took a personal interest in their careers. He was an uncompromising advocate for women in science throughout his career. Dr. Burg radiated a sense of excitement about science that made working with him a joyful experience.
Dr. Burg received his A.B. from Harvard College in 1952 and M.D. from Harvard Medical School in 1955. He came to the NHLBI as a postdoctoral fellow in the Laboratory of Kidney and Electrolyte Metabolism (LKEM) in 1957, following his intern and residency appointments in Boston. He then became an Investigator in the LKEM in 1960 and laboratory chief in 1975. He won numerous awards for his work in physiology, most notably, the Homer Smith Award of the American Society of Nephrology in 1977 and election to the National Academy of Sciences in 1991. In 2001 he also became a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Burg authored or co-authored more than 240 scientific articles and was a member of the American Physiological Society, American Society for Cell Biology, and American Society of Nephrology, where he served as president from 1980 - 1981.
Throughout his involvement with ASN, Dr. Burg played an important role in establishing the ASN Annual Meeting as a high-value scientific conference. He helped pave the way for ASN Kidney Week to evolve into the world's premier nephrology meeting.
Dr. Burg pursued many avocations, but the ones that pleased him most were woodworking, photography, travel and flyfishing. Combining the latter two hobbies, he and his wife Ruth traveled throughout the world to find the best trout fishing. Their fishing destinations included Alaska, Argentina, Chile, and New Zealand, but their favorite was always southwestern Montana and Wyoming.
Dr. Burg was a dedicated family man. He and his wife, Ruth Burg, a prominent lawyer and federal magistrate, raised four children: Elizabeth, Robert, Joan and Larry. The two met and married following the deaths of their first spouses, becoming soulmates, while creating a blended family. There are three grandchildren.
The family requests that individuals honor Dr. Burg via contributions to Children's Inn at NIH, which supports sick children and their families while undergoing care at the NIH Clinical Center.