Columbia-educated physician Robert Lefkowitz won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry on Wednesday for his research on how cells receptors react to drugs. Lefkowtiz graduated from Columbia College in 1962, and from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1966.
Lefkowitz, a professor of medicine at Duke University, collaborated with Stanford professor Brian Kobilka on the research. Kobilka, who is also receiving a Nobel Prize, was a post-doctoral fellow in Lefkowitz’s lab at Duke from 1984 to 1989.
The research might help doctors and pharmacists unlock vital information. The ways that cells sense their environments baffled researchers for decades, and it was not until Lefkowitz identified specific receptors on a cell in 1968 that scientists started to understand how hormones and cells interact.
Then, during the 1980s, Kobilka contributed to Lefkowitz’s ongoing project when he compared cell receptors to a receptor in in the eye that recognizes light. This showed that there is an entire family of cell receptors that resemble one another and have similar functions, according to the Nobel Prize website.
The family of receptors that Lefkowitz and Kobilka identified are now known as “g-protein-coupled receptors." The receptors enable about half of all medications to produce their effects on the body.
The Nobel Prizes will be presented in Stockholm, Sweden, in December.