Fellows: Career Profile

Dr. Ray Harris - Basic Scientist

Dr. Ray Harris

Although I had participated in clinical research as a medical student, I had never really been involved in bench research prior to beginning my nephrology fellowship. I found that, as a medical student and resident, I was always interested in disease and therapeutic mechanisms, so I was fairly gung-ho about giving research a chance. I was lucky to do my fellowship at Brigham and Women's Hospital during an exciting period when the hyperfiltration theory and the role of the renin-angiotensin system in progressive renal disease were being elucidated there. It was also the time that biophysical properties of renal transport proteins were being studied using membrane vesicles. Therefore, my first studies as a fellow involved determining alterations in sodium-hydrogen exchanger 3 activity in response to unilateral nephrectomy, alterations in dietary protein and diabetes. These studies have led to my continuing interest in mechanisms of regulation of kidney growth, mechanisms of progressive renal injury and potential therapeutic interventions. I have continued to pursue these questions in my lab at Vanderbilt for the past 24 years. In addition, studies that were initially aimed at investigating the role of prostaglandins in the regulation of renal hemodynamics led us to the serendipitous discovery that COX-2 is highly expressed and regulated in kidney in the macula densa and medullary interstitial cells, and attempts to understand the role of prostaglandins in kidney physiology and pathophysiology continue to be a major interest in our lab.

As I look back on my career, I think that being a little naïve, or at least having a bit of denial, served me well early on. During training and as I began to establish myself as an independent investigator, I never really imagined that I would fail. I told myself that if I worked very hard, was very persistent and didn't see setbacks as insurmountable or some sign that I wasn't cut out for research, I would be able to make it in a research academic career. Looking back now, I realize that I had several key factors contributing to my success that I would advise any fellows interested in basic research to seek out and develop. First, I trained in an active and successful lab that helped me to develop the basis for my future research interests as well as to give me confidence with many of the techniques. Second, I was surrounded by other fellows and post-docs who were also committed to success in research. They were going through the same stresses and uncertainties. It was very important during those often uncertain times of training to have had friends with whom to share successes and commiserate about setbacks. Finally, I had supervisors and mentors during my fellowship and throughout my subsequent career who provided encouragement, critical scientific and career guidance, and support. In essence, my success at research was dependent not only upon my own drive, but upon the scientific village that raised me.

Ultimately, I think the most important thing is to love what you do. I have always been driven by the scientific questions. Those epiphanies when suddenly you feel as if you have pulled the covers back a bit and understood something about biology or disease that hadn't been known before are what make all the work and the frustration worthwhile.