In this section, we highlight the human side of biomedical investigation, putting a few questions to a researcher at DMS-DHMC.
Eugene Nattie, M.D., DC '66 and DMS '68 Professor of Physiology
Nattie, who joined the DMS faculty in 1975, has a special interest in respiratory physiology and sudden infant death syndrome.
What are your primary research interests?
I'm interested in central chemoreceptors, which detect levels of carbon dioxide and pH and change breathing; they are widespread within the brain stem. At one extreme, my interest is purely basic science curiositywhy do we have so many central chemoreceptors? At the other it may be practicalin many cases of sudden infant death syndrome, there are abnormalities in brainstem serotonergic neurons, which are also chemoreceptors.
Of what professional accomplishment are you most proud?
Being able to teach and do physiology research at Dartmouth Medical School. It is a great school with wonderful students in a very nice natural setting.
What made you decide to become a scientist?
Two teachers: Both Derek Phillips, a professor of sociology at Dartmouth, and Marsh Tenney, a professor of physiology at DMS, showed me how much fun it was to try to figure out how things work. When I was an undergraduate, Derek Phillips guided me on a project examining the geographic colocalization of patients with mental illness and psychosomatic diseases in New Hampshire. And Marsh Tenney let me work for a full year in the middle of medical school in his physiology lab, on a project in which we "unloaded" the respiratory system by having subjectsfellow medical students breathe a helium-oxygen mixture during intense exercise.
If you weren't a scientist, what would you like to be?
Someone who tries to figure out how groups of people worka historian or sociologist. This would apply the same personal traits that a scientist must have to different problems.
What's your favorite nonwork activity?
I have very much enjoyed, together with my wife, watching our two daughters grow up. The daily activities of a scientist include trying to have total control of a situation, such as a controlled experiment. This does not always apply to parenting, but it has not diminished our enjoyment of it.
What are the greatest joy and the greatest frustration in your work?
There is joy in figuring out how things work physiologically speaking, which entails understanding a problem through reading and discussion and then designing and completing an experiment in which results are clear, although often unanticipated. There is also joy in sharing this process with students. I'm not sure about frustrationthere is disappointment at times. And it is sometimes difficult to share my enthusiasm about experimental physiology with nonscientists.
What music or radio programs do you listen to most?
Light country, folk, opera, and National Public Radioespecially Prairie Home Companion.
What book do you keep meaning to read?
Don Quixotewe all have our own windmills.
If you could have one question answered truthfully, what would it be?
Is it possible to understand and control aggressive, destructive individual or group behaviors? Serotonergic neuronssome large fraction of which are chemosensitive and possibly involved in sudden infant death syndromeare also involved in non-premeditated aggression. Low serotonin levels in humans and experimental animals correlate with aggressive behavior.
If you would like to offer any feedback about this article, we would welcome getting your comments at DartMed@Dartmouth.edu.