UMD Names Room and Chair in Brian Kobilka's Name
On September 13, at 2:30 p.m., UMD presented two honors to alumnus Brian Kobilka '77, recipient of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
Chancellor Lendley C. Black announced that UMD has given a new name, the Kobilka Lecture Hall, to room 200 of the Chemistry Building. Kobilka was also honored when UMD dedicated a certain chair in the lecture room to him.
Several UMD professors remember that exact chair was a favorite of Kobilka's during the four years he was a student at UMD. Conrad Firling, professor emeritus of biology said, "Brian had many classes in the same place. He would typically pick the same seat."
Early Years at UMD
Robert Carlson, professor emeritus of chemistry, said Kobilka was a serious student. "He was quiet and self confident. He was an excellent student in physics, chemistry, molecular biology. and biology, all areas he now uses to conduct his work." Both professors knew Kobilka would go far. "When Brian told me he was going to medical school there was part of me that hoped he would change his mind and go back to research," said Carlson. "He was already a brilliant researcher then."
"Brian's contributions have helped the pharmaceutical industry already, and his work is going to have important ramifications for the next 20-30 years as well," Firling said. "No one anticipates receiving the Nobel Prize, but I can't think of a better representative than Brian."
KUMD-103.3 FM radio has interviewed Firling and Will Salo, another one of Kobilka's UMD professors.
Kobilka received the 2012 Nobel Prize, along with another U.S. scientist, Robert Lefkowitz, for studies about how cells in our body sense their environments. These studies are key for developing better drugs. Kobilka graduated summa cum laude from UMD in 1977 with bachelor of science degrees in biology and chemistry.
Dr. Robert Lefkowitz, of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) in Maryland, is also a professor at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina.
About Kobilka's Cell Research
"It was so exciting to see this three-dimensional structure and finally know how these transmembrane regions interact during signaling," said Kobilka.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said Lefkowitz and Kobilka had made groundbreaking discoveries. About half of all medications act on these receptors, including beta blockers and antihistamines, so learning about them will help scientists to come up with better drugs.
The human body has about 1,000 kinds of such receptors, structures on the surface of cells, which let the body respond to a wide variety of chemical signals, like adrenaline. Some receptors are in the nose, tongue and eyes, and let us sense smells, tastes and light.
The academy said it was long a mystery how cells interact with their environment and adapt to new situations, such as when they react to adrenaline by increasing blood pressure and making the heart beat faster.
Scientists suspected that cell surfaces had some type of receptor for hormones. Using radioactivity, Lefkowitz managed to unveil receptors including the receptor for adrenaline, and started to understand how it works.
Kobilka and his team realized that there is a whole family of receptors that look alike -- a family that is now called G-protein-coupled receptors.
In 2011, Kobilka achieved another breakthrough when his team captured an image of the receptor for adrenaline at the moment when it is activated by a hormone and sends a signal into the cell. The academy called the image "a molecular masterpiece."
Story by Cheryl Reitan, September, 2013.