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Robert J. Lefkowitz, Pioneering Cell Researcher and AAAS Member, Shares 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Robert J. Lefkowitz, a AAAS member, was named a winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his research on cell surface receptors.

As a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at Duke University since 1976, Lefkowitz was recognized for the new insights produced by


Robert J. Lefkowitz | Image © Duke University Photography

his research on the part of the cell that communicates with the rest of the cell about changes in the body.


Receptors affect the senses as well as nearly all of the body’s physiological processes. Lefkowitz’s research has advanced scientists’ understanding of how individuals will tolerate and respond to different types of medication at the cellular level. His work has led to the development of new medications that target the receptors, including beta blockers and antihistamines.

After graduating from Columbia University’s medical school at the top of his class, Lefkowitz started a fellowship at the National Institutes of Health, where he became fascinated by receptor biology.

For most of the 20th century, scientists did not understand how neurotransmitters and hormones like adrenaline communicated with cells. Lefkowitz has led the field of receptor biology by isolating several G protein-coupled receptors, the most prevalent type of receptors.

In addition to his work as a groundbreaking researcher, a professor of medicine, and a research cardiologist at the Duke Heart Center, Lefkowitz has also been recognized by his colleagues and students as an attentive and encouraging mentor. In fact, Lefkowitz will share the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Brian K. Kobilka, a professor at Stanford University School of Medicine and a former post-doctoral fellow in Lefkowitz’s lab at the Duke University Medical Center.

“Needless to say, I’m thrilled, I’m excited, I’m delighted to be sharing the award with a former student of mine who I admire and who I’m very fond of,” Lefkowitz told the News & Observer. “It won’t be our last.”

The Nobel Prize ceremonies take place in Stockholm, Sweden, on 10 December.

Read about the 2011 Nobel laureates with ties to AAAS.