Professor Kurt Beam, PhD

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has announced the election of its newest members; among them is CU School of Medicine’s Professor Kurt Beam, PhD, Department of Physiology & Biophysics.

Beam’s nomination and election to the Physiology and Pharmacology sub section of the NAS places him among 52 fellow members, of whom six are Nobel Laureates.

“This is such an honor because it’s recognition from my peers,” said Beam. “These people are my scientific heroes.”

The National Academy of Sciences elected 84 new members this year and 21 foreign associates from 15 countries in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. The new elections bring the total number of active members to 2,152 and the total number of foreign associates to 430. Foreign associates are nonvoting members of the Academy, with citizenship outside the United States.

A major focus of Beam’s laboratory work is on the molecules that link electrical signals in muscle to contraction (“excitation-contraction coupling”). Beam’s work has helped to identify a protein, the dihydropyridine receptor (DHPR), which “senses” the electrical signal, and to identify how the DHPR interacts with another protein (called the ryanodine receptor, RyR) to control the movement of calcium ions, which are the chemical messenger that causes contraction. This understanding is important because excitation-contraction coupling is a fundamental process necessary for our ability to breathe and move, and also because mutations of the DHPR and RyR result in serious human afflictions, including long-term muscle weakness, periodic paralysis and a potentially fatal complication during surgery.

Beam and his colleagues are working to determine regions of close proximity between the proteins (i.e., potential sites of interaction), whether those regions “move” during physiological function, and how these are altered by mutations causing human muscle disease. “The sorts of approaches we are developing may be of general use for analyzing the molecular machinery underlying important functions in many cell types,” said Beam.

His work currently is funded through three grants including one from the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and two others from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

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