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Jewish doctor from New York co-recipient of Nobel Prize in Chemistry

JTA

October 10, 2012 | 11:00 am

Dr. Robert J. Lefkowitz, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at Duke University.  Photo by REUTERS/Stewart Waller/PR Newswire, HHMI/Handout.

Dr. Robert J. Lefkowitz, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at Duke University. Photo by REUTERS/Stewart Waller/PR Newswire, HHMI/Handout.

Robert J. Lefkowitz, a Jewish physician and path-breaking biochemist from New York, has won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry jointly with Brian K. Kobilka, a researcher at California’s Stanford University.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2012 went to the scientists for “groundbreaking discoveries that reveal the inner workings of an important family ... of receptors: G-protein–coupled receptors,” an Oct. 10 posting 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.

Lefkowitz –- 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 which 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.

Lefkowitz, 61, and Kobilka, 57, will share a $1.2 million grant from the Nobel Prize Committee.

On Oct. 9. The Nobel Prize Committee in Stockholm announced that Serge Haroche, a French-Jewish physicist, had won the Nobel Prize in Physics jointly with David Wineland from the United States. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2011 went to Dan Shechtman of Israel’s Technion.

In 2008, Lefkowitz received the US 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 with Emily Harris which appeared this summer on the website of Duke University, 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: "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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