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Gary Sieck, PhD, FAPS

APS members are doing amazing things. We asked Gary Sieck, PhD, FAPS—one of our esteemed member-researchers—to tell us about his research and its implications on our understanding of life and health. He also shares how he’s been able to marry science with his other interests to build a career filled with curiosity and discovery. 

What do you do? Describe your work for a lay audience.

My research focuses on the neural control of the diaphragm muscle, which is the major pump moving air into our lungs during breathing. The neural control of the diaphragm is finely tuned to meet the wide-ranging ventilatory demands of our bodies throughout life.

Give it context. If all goes well, how will your work benefit humanity or our understanding of life?

In sustaining ventilation and life itself, the diaphragm muscle is a pump that cannot fail, like the heart. But, unlike the heart, force (pressure) generation by the diaphragm is under neural control. The diaphragm pump must function at birth, but the ventilatory demands on this essential pump change during our life span and under disease conditions. My research explores how the diaphragm adapts to life demands and pathophysiology. In addition to breathing, pressure generation by the diaphragm muscle also serves other vital functions such as airway clearance and voiding behaviors. In this respect, dysfunction of the diaphragm can underlie many other disease symptoms such as respiratory tract infection.

What outside of science inspires you? Describe your passion.

Throughout my life, I have been very fortunate to be able to seize opportunities and pursue my curiosity whether directed toward science (physiology) or other areas, such as traveling and history. I have had many opportunities come my way, so I’ve been very fortunate. As a research scientist, I’ve been able to combine my interests by traveling throughout the world, giving talks, making friends, pursuing collaborations, exploring different cultures and learning about their history. The bottom line is that I have a passion for learning and mentoring. I think overall I would rather be known as a great teacher than a great scientist.

Gary Sieck, PhD, FAPS, is the Vernon F. and Earline D. Dale Professor and a Distinguished Mayo Investigator in the department of physiology and biomedical engineering at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. He’s been an APS member since 1976.