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Pioneer in G proteins urges students toward careers in research

Yale Medicine Magazine, 1999 - Summer


The speaker at this year’s Student Research Day warned his audience of the perils of spending too much time in the lab. “It is very addictive,” Robert J. Lefkowitz, M.D., cautioned students when he delivered the 12th Annual Farr Lecture in May. “One doesn’t realize one is addicted until one is put in withdrawal.”

His tongue-in-cheek warning couldn’t have come on a better day, one that celebrates Yale’s long tradition of student research. The school’s thesis requirement, which sets Yale apart from other medical schools, began in 1839, said John N. Forrest Jr., M.D., HS ’70, professor of medicine and director of the Office of Student Research. “What makes it work,” Forrest said, “is the faculty-student pairs. It’s a great synergy.”

Lefkowitz, professor of medicine and biochemistry at Duke University Medical Center and an investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, described “G Protein-Coupled Receptors and Their Regulation” in his speech. He said he moved between clinical work and research before settling on research as a career. His groundbreaking work on G protein-coupled receptors in 1970 has led to the development of precise and effective drugs. “Drugs which target these receptors,” he said, “either as agonists or antagonists, probably represent the largest and most useful class of therapeutic agents. Understanding the properties of these receptors in molecular detail holds great promise for developing novel targets and novel therapeutic strategies.”

This year 62 students displayed posters or made oral presentations of their research projects, which ranged from studies of informed consent in pediatric emergency cases to novel methods of gene therapy. “It is not the number of research projects that is important,” said Dean David A. Kessler, M.D., “it is the effort towards gaining knowledge, towards asking fundamental questions. That is what this day is all about. Curriculum changes will come and go, but what we celebrate here today is part of who we are and what we do.”

Five students delivered oral presentations of their award-winning theses: Obinwanne Ugwonali, “The Role of White Yams in the Increased Incidence of Multiple Births in Southwestern Nigeria”; Angelo Volandes, “Film Documentary as Ethnography: Tempering Medical Ethics with Patient Stories”; Senai Asefaw, “Stimulation of Myocardial AMP-activated Protein Kinase by AICAR Increases Cardiac Glu-cose Uptake and Causes GLUT4 and GLUT1 Translocation In Vivo”; Steven Jacoby, “Analysis of Structure and Function in the Na-K-Cl Cotransporter”; and Maie R. St. John, “The Role of LATS in Mammalian Tumorigenesis, Development and Cell Cycle Regulation.”