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In Memoriam: Kenneth M. Baldwin, PhD

Posted: 2023-11-01

Source: UCI School of Medicine
News Type: 

Ken Baldwin, PhD, 1942-2023

We are saddened to report that Kenneth M. Baldwin, PhD, passed away in mid-October. A founding member of the Department of Physiology & Biophysics, which was originally named: Functional Correlates B, Dr. Baldwin was recruited in 1973 to join the faculty at UCI.

Dr. Baldwin received his Bachelor of Science and graduated magna cum laude from Springfield College. He then completed his doctorate in exercise physiology in 1970 under Charles Tipton at the University of Iowa. He finished postdoctoral training under John Holloszy at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

His research interests focused on exercise-induced biochemical and functional adaptations in heart and skeletal muscle. As one of the first faculty members recruited to the UCI School of Medicine, he played an important role in shaping the teaching, research and governance of the school, known in the beginning as the California College of Medicine. He served as senior associate dean for Academic Affairs from 1989 to 1996.

His distinguished research program resulted in more than 200 incisive publications in physiology journals. He developed methods to manipulate the structure and function of cardiac and skeletal muscle in the in vivo setting with realistic animal models of overload and resistance training and in models of limb unloading relevant to muscle atrophy during long-term bed rest and space flight.

His molecular studies focused on several myosin heavy chain genes — how their expression is regulated by epigenetics and during gene transcription, and how the proteins are then post-translationally regulated. One of his most significant realizations is that these genes actually communicate with one another through expression of non-coding antisense RNA regulated by intergenic promoters. His research legacy lives on through his discoveries and his mentorship that have shaped the field.

His interest in the effects of microgravity on the expression of contractile protein expression led to important roles in the NASA astronaut programs. Beginning in 1989, he served on many NASA advisory committees, such as the NASA Explorations Systems Mission Directorate Advisory Committee, which he chaired from 2000 to 2004.

Dr. Baldwin will be remembered by many generations of medical and graduate students for his enthusiastic lectures on exercise physiology and the physiology of the heart and circulatory system. Raised in the Boston area, Dr. Baldwin had a wonderful Bostonian accent that endeared him to the students. Lovingly, they created a glossary of Baldwin expressions, such as “Otteris are the largest vessels that come from the hot.”

Dr. Baldwin was consistently rated among the best lecturers within the School of Medicine. He was singled out for his organizational skills, clarity in presentation and his general teaching assistance to medical students. His unique style was designed to promote student engagement and lifelong learning. Moreover, while leading the field in molecular studies of skeletal and cardiac muscle plasticity, he mentored 25 graduate students and postdocs, many of whom themselves have enjoyed outstanding success as faculty members.

Following his “retirement," Ken remained active as an emeritus faculty member, continuing to enliven faculty meetings while being recalled to teach and extending his legacy of outstanding service, particularly to the space program. He also published 10 papers during this period.

Among his accolades, he served on the Space Studies Board of the National Academy of Sciences that oversees research for animals and humans in space. He was honored by Springfield College as their Distinguished Alumnus in 2016. He also organized a symposium for the National Academy of Sciences at their headquarters in Washington, D.C. in 2018, to consider the formidable physiological challenges for space travel to and from Mars. He also received the American Physiological Society’s Living History Award in 2019. Finally, he received UCI’s Outstanding Emeritus Award in 2019.

Exercise sciences, with Dr. Baldwin and his colleagues leading the way, has become an increasingly popular undergraduate major at UCI. The “Exercise is Medicine” mantra has become a global health initiative. Above all, Dr. Baldwin is remembered as a warm and generous human being whose spirit has enriched the lives of many.

Stephen H. White, PhD
Professor Emeritus, Physiology & Biophysics

Michael D. Cahalan, PhD
Chair, Physiology & Biophysics