Hail to a scientist

The first emotion, for those of us in the Carolinas who haven’t just won the Nobel Prize in chemistry, is pride. We are proud to have Dr. Robert Lefkowitz of Duke University living and working in our midst. We are proud of what his achievements say about this area’s intellectual climate and depth of scientific expertise.

Pride verges with respect and gratitude. The award to Lefkowitz – which he shares with Stanford’s Brian Kobilka, whom he mentored at Duke – recognizes a career that reached the apex of achievement in medical research.

Over the years in his lab, he hammered away at riddles of cell biology and biochemistry in search of answers that would make medicines work more effectively. It was a dedication that must have been driven not only by the thrill of discovery but also by the physician’s desire to ease people’s suffering.

In the process, Lefkowitz fulfilled the high calling of a professor of medicine – training more than 200 other scientists such as Kobilka to make their own discoveries in their own labs. That Duke, where he has worked since 1973, proved to be a fertile and compatible home base is a great credit to the university, which for the first time can point to a Nobel awarded for work done on its campus.

It takes a special kind of environment to foster research at such a high level. North Carolina is fortunate indeed that the region we know as the Research Triangle provides the environment that can support a scientist of Lefkowitz’ caliber. He becomes the fifth Triangle-area Nobel winner, following previous laureates associated with UNC-Chapel Hill, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and Wellcome Research Laboratories.

This state looks to the life sciences as an economic mainstay, both in the conduct of research that attracts many millions in federal grants and as a focus of industry. The honor to Lefkowitz amounts to putting a fresh shine on the North Carolina brand. And it underscores the appeal of that tried-and-true goal – doing well by doing good.