Working together, the two men used the patch-clamp technique to conclusively establish the existence of characteristic sets of ion channels in cell membranes--some of which permit the flow of only positive ions, while others pass only negatively charged ions. This established, they examined a broad range of cellular functions, eventually discovering the role that ion channels play in such diseases as diabetes, cystic fibrosis, epilepsy, several cardiovascular diseases, and certain neuromuscular disorders. These discoveries enabled the development of new and more specific drug therapies.
In 1979 Sakmann became a research associate in the Max Planck Institute's
membrane biology group. He was made head of the membrane physiology
unit in 1983, and he became director of the institute's department of
cell physiology two years later.
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