Mission Statement

The research mission of the Department of Physiology is to explore how the complex cellular phenotypes that underlie the integrated functions of the tissues and organ systems comprising higher living organisms, emerge from the genomic code. Our research program extends from computational methods to developmental genetics and post-genomic strategies—from bacteria and yeast, to zebrafish, mouse, and man.

William Guggino, Ph.D.

Department History

The origins of the Department of Physiology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine began with H. Newell Martin, Sc.D. (1843-1893) who, in 1883, was Professor of Biology.  Martin was a former student of the great 19th century biologist Thomas Huxley, one of the earliest proponents of Darwin’s theory of evolution.  He was at that time appointed as the first Professor of Physiology on the Medical School faculty.  He organized a physiological laboratory at Johns Hopkins wherein he made some important studies related to the physiology of circulation and established a method for perfusing the isolated mammalian heart.

Johns Hopkins University pioneered a new model for graduate education in biology. Prior to its opening in 1876, opportunities for graduate education in biology were extremely limited in the United States. Under the careful leadership of W. K. Brooks and H. Newell Martin, Johns Hopkins not only provided for the education of many of the first generation of American-trained biologists, but it also developed a new and workable model for advanced training in the biological sciences. This model, formed around laboratory training and original research, was adopted by many American universities by the end of the nineteenth century.

From: KEITH R. BENSON, H. Newell Martin, W. K. Brooks, and the Reformation of American Biology, American Zoologist, Volume 27, Issue 3, August 1987, Pages 759–771.

Martin died in 1893, and William Henry Howell, Ph.D. (1860-1945) became the Chair of the first Department of Physiology when the School of Medicine opened in 1893. Howell remained in that position until 1920.  He published the Textbook of Physiology for Medical Students and Physicians and authored 55 scientific publications.  His research demonstrated that the two lobes of the pituitary are functionally different, and showed the circulatory effects of extracts of the pituitary gland derived from substances entirely from the posterior lobe.  He was one of the early scientists to demonstrate the chemical nature of nervous influences controlling the heart rate, and he made important contributions to the study of blood coagulation, including important observations on heparin.

Since then, the department has grown in leaps and bounds in response to the ever changing scientific environment. Advances in technology and research techniques, combined with the diverse background of our scientists and students, have helped maintain the Physiology Departments roots in scientific discovery and education.