Villanova University has named Nobel Prize-winning Biochemist Brian Kobilka, MD, holder of the Helene Irwin Fagan Chair in Cardiology at Stanford University, as the recipient of its 2015 Mendel Medal, in recognition of his groundbreaking work on G-protein-coupled receptors in the human body, the structures through which cells sense and respond to chemical signals in the human body. The Mendel Medal, established in 1928 by the Board of Trustees of Villanova University, honors outstanding pioneering scientists who have demonstrated, by their lives and their standing before the world as scientists, that there is no intrinsic conflict between science and religion.
Villanova University’s Mendel Medal honors 19th century Augustinian friar and scientist Gregor Johann Mendel, Abbot of the Augustinian Monastery, Brünn, Austria, (now Brno, the Czech Republic), best known as “the father of modern genetics” for his discovery of the celebrated laws of heredity that bear his name. Past recipients of the award have included Nobel Laureates, outstanding medical researchers, and pioneers in physics, astrophysics and chemistry, as well as noted scientist-theologians.
Dr. Kobilka, a Professor of Medicine in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Physiology at Stanford University School of Medicine, won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2012 for groundbreaking discoveries that revealed the inner workings of G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs). The receptors, which wind in and out of the cell membrane, serve as one of the main methods of communication within the human body, by conveying chemical messages into the cell's interior from outside through the membrane. GPCRs regulate nearly every physiological process in the body, including the beating of the heart and the functioning of the brain. GPCRs have become the largest group of targets of new therapeutics for a very broad spectrum of diseases. About half of all medications today make use of GPCRs.
Dr. Kobilka has spent more than three decades studying, discovering and understanding GPCRs. He was the first to crystallize one of the receptors in the act of activating its cytosolic signaling partner, a critical step toward understanding how to control, target and treat them.
“It is a great honor to award Dr. Kobilka the 2015 Mendel Medal,” said The Rev. Kail Ellis, OSA, PhD, Villanova University’s Vice President for Academic Affairs. “A brilliant and dedicated scientist, he is also very humble, recognizing and crediting others as key to his success. A mentor to young scientists, he encourages them to persevere in research as they can be successful and find it rewarding. And an advocate for scientific funding, he laments government budget cuts as shortsighted because ‘basic research ultimately leads to pharmaceutical products and other innovations from which we all benefit.’ Adjectives used to describe his character are kind, generous, humble, thoughtful and courageous. As such he epitomizes Mendel’s scientific legacy.”
Dr. Kobilka received Bachelor of Science degrees in Biology and Chemistry from the University of Minnesota, Duluth in 1977. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine in 1981, and completed residency training in Internal Medicine at the Barnes Hospital, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri in 1984. From 1984-1989 he was a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Robert Lefkowitz at Duke University. In 1990 he joined the faculty of Medicine and Molecular and Cellular Physiology at Stanford University. He was promoted to Professor of Medicine and Molecular and Cellular Physiology in 2000. He is the co-founder of ConformetRx, a biotechnology company focusing on GPCRs.
Dr. Kobilka is the 1994 recipient of the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics John J. Abel Award in Pharmacology. In 2004 he won the Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. His GPCR structure work was named "runner-up" for the 2007 "Breakthrough of the Year" award from Science magazine.
Dr. Kobilka will deliver the 2015 Mendel Medal Lecture at 2 p.m., Friday, October 2, in the Villanova Room of the Connelly Center. The event is free and open to the public.