Alfred Goodman Gilman Biography (1941-)

biochemist, pharmacologist

Alfred Goodman Gilman was born in 1941 in New Haven, Connecticut, to Alfred Gilman Sr. and Mabel Schmidt Gilman. Gilman grew up in White Plains, New York,where his father was on the faculty of The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University and then later a founding chairman of the Pharmacology Department at the new Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Visits to his father's laboratory peaked his interest in biology. Gilman was also able to observe intricate pharmacological experiments designed for medical students.

In 1955 Gilman was sent to the Taft School in Watertown, Connecticut, a prepschool for boys. Gilman was not happy about being sent away, nor did he enjoythe rigid structure of the boys' school. From there, he went on to Yale where he majored in biochemisty. Gilman describes his first laboratory project, to test Francis Crick's adapter hypothesis, as "wildly overambitious." The experience was rewarding for him though, because of the encouragement he received from his lab instructor Melvin Simpson.

After receiving his B.A. from Yale in 1962, Gilman worked for Burroughs Wellcome in New York and published his first papers. He knew he wanted to go intoresearch when he entered a unique M.D.-Ph.D. program at Case Western ReserveUniversity in the fall of 1962. Gilman conducted research on the thyroid gland and was also interested in studying cells and genetics. He earned anM.D. and Ph.D. in pharmacology in 1969. His interest in genetics led him tothe Pharmacology Research Associate Training Program at the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, where he researched cyclic adenosine monophosphate (AMP), a genetic regulator that moderates hormone actions. His work withNobel laureate Earl Sutherland was the beginning of his interest in cell communication.

In 1971 Gilman accepted a position as an assistant professor of pharmacologyat the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. It was here that Gilman began his Nobel Prize-winning work. He and his colleagues knew about Martin Rodbell's work at the National Institutes of Health with guanine nucleotides (components of deoxyribonucleic acid [DNA] and ribonucleic acid [RNA]). Rodbell and his research associates at the NIH ascertained that the guanine nucleotides were somehow related to cell communication, but could not prove it. Gilman's research began where Rodbell left off, and in the late 1970s,he and his colleagues started looking for the chemicals that would confirm Rodbell's work. Gilman used genetically altered leukemia cells to detect the presence of G-proteins. He found that without the G-protein, the cellsdid not respond to outside stimulation the way a normal cell would. In 1980 they found the G-proteins, named because they bind to the guanine nucleotides.

G-proteins are instrumental in the fundamental workings of a cell. They allowus to see and smell by changing light and odors to chemical messages that travel to the brain. Understanding how G-proteins malfunction could lead to understanding serious diseases like cholera or cancer. Scientistshave linked improperly working G-proteins to everything from alcoholism to diabetes. Pharmaceutical companies are developing drugs that would focuson G-proteins.

In 1979 Gilman was asked to chair the department of pharmacology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. He eventually acceptedthe postion and his time at Southwestern was filled with many other awards. Among the awards are the Poul Edvard Poulson Award from the Norwegian Pharmacological Society in 1982 and the Gairdner Foundation International Award in 1984. In 1987 he shared the Richard Lounsbery Award from the National Academy of Sciences with Martin Rodbell in 1987, foreshadowing the Nobel. In 1989 he won the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award. Finally, Gilman and Rodbell were awarded the 1994 Nobel Prize in Medicine for their collaborative work.Since his discovery, Gilman has been in the forefront of G-protein research.He predicts that eventually scientists will be able to map cell communication in a way that will allow scientists to predict how cells will respond to avariety of signals, leading the way to major advances in the treatment of disease.

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