UMD Graduate Receives Nobel Prize

By KBJR News 1

October 10, 2012 Updated Oct 10, 2012 at 10:42 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (Northland's NewsCenter) -- A former UMD graduate received a Nobel Prize for chemistry research.

On October 10, Brian Kobilka won the 2012 Nobel Prize in chemistry along with another U.S. scientist for studies about how cells in the human body sense their environments.

The studies help point to the development of better drugs.

Kobilka will share the prize with Robert Lefkowitz. Kobilka graduated summa cum laude from UMD in 1977 with a bachelor of science degree in biology and chemistry.

Kobilka received his medical degree from Yale University School of Medicine in 1981, he then went to train in internal medicine at Washington University School of Medicine, and served as a research partner and assistant professor at the Duke University School of Medicine.

In 1989, Kobilka joined the faculty at Standford University School of Medicine where he is currently a professor of medicine, and molecular and cellular physiology.

Lefkowitz, of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, who shares the prize with Kobilka, is also a professor at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina.

Kobilka was born and raised in the Little Falls, Minnesota area. He met his wife in a biology class at UMD. Kobilka and his wife did research in a developmental biology lab at UMD.

A UMD chemistry professor, Robert Carlson, had Kobilka in an organic chemistry class for a full year.

"Brian was in the chemistry honors program," said Carlson. "He was such a good student we knew we needed to do something special to help him with his honors research project. Biology Professor, Conrad Firling and I set up a collarboration so Brian could do chemistry and molecular biology research. It was the first time we set up that kind of interdisciplinary cooperation."

Carlson added that Kobilka was an incredibly nice guy and that it was very clear he was someone special.

In the 1980's, both Kobilka and Lefkowitz worked to identify one G-protein-coupled receptor family member called the beta-adrenergic receptor.

In 2011, he and his team were the first to obtain a three-dimensional image of another receptor family member bound to its signlaing molecule.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said both the scientists made groundbreaking discoveries. About half of all medications act on these receptors, including beta blockers and antihistamines, so learning about them would help other scientists come up with better drugs.

In 2011, Kobilka achieved another breakthrough when his team captured an image of the receptor for adrenaline at the moment it is activated by a hormone and sends a signal into the cell.

The academy called the image "a molecular masterpiece."

Senator Amy Klobuchar issued a statement on Kobilka'a prize.

"From Lindbergh's first flight to Mayo Clinic's cutting edge discoveries, Minnesota has always been a leader in innovation. Dr. Kobilka, hailing from Lindbergh's hometown of Little Falls, is now part of this great tradition ... I am extremely proud of Dr. Kobilka for receiving this internationally-renowned award recognizing his groundbreaking contributions to scientific knowledge."

Posted to the web by Jenna Vogt