Robert Lefkowitz, a Jewish biochemist and doctor, shares Nobel in chemistry


(JTA) — Robert Lefkowitz, a Jewish physician and biochemist, won the Nobel Prize in chemistry with Brian Kobilka, a Stanford University researcher. 

Lefkowitz, 61, and Kobilka, 57, won for “groundbreaking discoveries that reveal the inner workings of an important family … of receptors: G-protein-coupled receptors,” a posting Wednesday on the website of the Nobel Prize stated. Understanding how these receptors function helped further explain how cells could sense their environment, according to the text.

They will share a $1.2 million grant from the Nobel Prize Committee.

Lefkowitz, a New York native who works at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute of Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina, and Kobilka worked together to isolate and analyze a gene that led them to discover that “the receptor was similar to one in the eye that captures light. They realized that there is a whole family of receptors that look alike and function in the same manner,” the Nobel Prize website said.

A day earlier, the Nobel Prize Committee in Stockholm announced that Serge Haroche, a French-Jewish physicist, had won the Nobel Prize in physics with David Wineland of the United States. The 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to Dan Shechtman of Israel’s Technion.

In 2008, Lefkowitz received the U.S. National Medal of Science. The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles reported at the time that he was one of three American-Jewish recipients that year of the nation’s highest honor in science and technology.

In an interview that appeared this summer on the Duke website, Lefkowitz is quoted as saying, "I was clearly destined to be a physician, I dreamed about it from the third grade on. Wouldn’t trade that part of my experience in for anything. I LOVED medical school." He also said that "I do regret that my dad died thinking I would be a practicing cardiologist, never dreaming what the future held for me."

Lefkowitz’s father, who died at the age of 63, "never got to see any of this play out," Lefkowitz said.

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