By Arthur Lightbourn
If he had a magic wand, University of California San Diego professor and researcher Dr. Roland Blantz would have the National Institutes for Health double its budget for research grants and medical schools would broaden their admission requirements to admit candidates from a variety of academic disciplines, including engineering, physics and the arts, to breed new life into medical investigative research in America.
Blantz, 70, is a professor of medicine and head of the division of nephrology-hypertension at UCSD for the past 21 years.
Last November, in Dallas, at a meeting of the American Society of Nephrologists, he was presented the John P. Peters Award, the highest honor granted by the ASN for outstanding research and leadership contributions in the field of kidney disease.
Nephrology (from the Greek words, nephros, “kidney,” and logy, “the study of” ) is a subspecialty of internal medicine dealing with the diagnosis and treatment of kidney diseases, including electrolyte disturbances and hypertension, and the care of patients requiring kidney replacement therapy, such as dialysis and kidney transplants.
Blantz is renowned for his research on the role of the peptide angiotensin in the regulation of blood pressure and kidney hemodynamics, and in the causes of acute kidney injury.
He has also made longstanding contributions to our understanding of the kidneys’ fluid feedback system and its capacity to adapt temporarily to volume status, sodium chloride intake, and other variations in the kidney’s filtering and reabsorption system.
Kidneys perform the life-essential function of filtering and excreting waste products from the blood through urine and regulating the body’s fluid levels through reabsorption of water, glucose and amino acids.
We interviewed Dr. Blantz on a recent rainy afternoon in his office at the Veterans Hospital on La Jolla Village Drive in San Diego.
“It’s been a disappointment to me in this country,” he said, “that we are importing many of our investigators from other countries because education in the United States is not leading people into scientific [investigative] careers in medicine. It’s a declining interest for some reason.
“Someone who has been imprinted to be a doctor since he was 14 often becomes the worst investigator of all because they are not really interested in the truly intellectual aspects of medicine. They’re interested in care-giving per se, which I think is a valuable task, but there are intellectual aspects to medicine too and they should not be forgotten.
“I’m sure there are a lot of people who’ll be irritated by my comments…but having a few poets go to medical school is not bad.”
Blantz was born in Portland, Oregon. His father, who held a master’s in French, a degree that didn’t pay much during the Great Depression, found work as a high voltage lineman for Portland General Electric power utility and later became an executive with the company.
Perhaps like his father and, as he often advises his sons, “Changing hats …. is not a bad thing. Don’t just stick to the things you know you’re good at.”