History

History of Duke Nephrology

Duke Nephrology enjoys a rich history in both clinical nephrology and research. The division was established in 1962 by the chairman of the Department of Medicine at the time, Eugene A. Stead, MD. Dr. Stead asked Roscoe "Ike" R. Robinson, MD, to form and direct Duke’s nephrology division.

Nephrology was a fledgling field in 1962 and didn't have a structured training program. Ike Robinson was able to built a strong foundation for both clinical medicine and basic science research.

Defining the Field of Nephrology

During the 1960's Duke Nephrology headed a strong basic science foundation as well as establishing a strong clinical presence. The division maintained an active acute and chronic dialysis unit as well as a kidney transplant program.

The first kidney transplant was performed at Duke Hospital in 1965 using a living donor. During this time, Dr. Stead created a new physician's assistant program at Duke University in 1965 using former Navy corpsmen partly to help in caring for dialysis and transplant patients.

The "first wave" of faculty included Jim Clapp, MD, Charles "Chuck" Hayes, MD, and Caulie Gunnells, MD. Jim Clapp was recruited as a young basic science researcher from the NIH. His focus was on using the single nephron micropuncture technique to study renal tubule function.

Hayes headed the new dialysis program and Gunnells performed renal artery angiography while studying low-renin hypertension. Clapp, Gunnells, and Ruby Wilson, RN, stayed at Duke for their entire careers and contributed both to the excellent academic environment as well as the educational atmosphere at Duke.

Continued Excellence

The "second wave" of faculty recruited by Robinson was an equally talented group that included Thomas E. Andreoli, Vincent Dennis, Craig Tisher, and William Yarger.

Tom Andreoli, MD, was interested in lipid bilayer membrane physiology. Vince Dennis, MD, used the isolated perfused tubule to study phosphate absorption and Craig Tisher used various morphological techniques including electron microscopy to study kidney microstructure. Dennis succeeded Robinson as division chief in 1981.

William Yarger, MD, eventually succeeded Dennis as division chief in 1991 and finished his career as chief of the medical service at the Durham VA Medical Center.

Other notable past fellows and faculty members included Gabriel Navar, chair of physiology at Tulane and president emeritus of the American Physiological Society; Jim Schafer, president emeritus of the American Physiological Society, a Homer Smith Awardee, and editor emeritus of the American Journal of Physiology; William Stead, director of the Informatics Center at Vanderbilt University; Paul Klotman, President and CEO of Baylor College of Medicine; and Steve Schwab, executive dean at the University of Tennessee College of Medicine.

Fifty Years of Leadership

Over the past five decades Duke Nephrology has expanded to include 22 full-time faculty members covering the renal services at both Duke University Hospital and the Durham VA Medical Center.

Myles Wolf, MD, MMSc, is the division chief. Duke Nephrology now runs eight outpatient dialysis units, providing care for over 700 hemodialysis patients, including active peritoneal and home hemodialysis programs.

The Duke Transplant Program currently performs 150 kidney transplants and 15 to 20 kidney/pancreas transplants each year. The division is actively engaged in both clinical and basic science research endeavors. The fellowship training program is led by Ruediger Lehrich, MD and Matthew A. Sparks, MD and awards four new fellowships per year.

The division continues to produce leaders in nephrology at academic centers and practice groups throughout the United States.

Division Chiefs


Roscoe R. Robinson, MD, 1962-1981

  • Past president of the American Society of Nephrology 1981-1982
  • Past president of the International Society of Nephrology 1990-1993
  • Founding editor of Kidney International
  • Retired as vice chancellor for health affairs and professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine


Vincent W. Dennis, MD, 1981-1991

  • Past councilor of the International Society of Nephrology
  • Past associate editor of Kidney International
  • Past chair of the Department of Nephrology and Hypertension at Cleveland Clinic

William E. Yarger, MD, 1991-1996

  • Past chief of the medical service at the Durham VA Medical Center
  • Distinguished Faculty Award for Duke University, 2007


Thomas M. Coffman, MD, 1997-2014

  • President of the American Society of Nephrology 2008-2009
  • Distinguished Faculty Award for Duke Medical Alumni Association, 2014
  • AHA award for excellence in hypertension research
  • Dean, Duke-National University of Singapore Medical School


Stephen R. Smith, MD, MHS, 2015-2016 (Interim)


Myles Wolf, MD, MMSc, 2016-present