Robert J. Lefkowitz is a biochemist and physician who won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 2012 for his work with G protein-coupled receptors. Approximately half of all medications today make use of this kind of receptor.
Cells in our body are constantly exposed to a variety of chemical signals—hormones, neurotransmitters, growth factors, and sometimes even drugs—that they need to interpret and translate into a response. This task is handled by receptors that dot cell membranes. Lefkowitz has essentially defined the field of receptor biology through his work with G protein–coupled receptors, the largest and most pervasive family of cell receptors. A thousand or more of these receptors are known to exist throughout the body, playing critical roles in sight, smell, and taste, and in regulating heart rate, blood pressure, pain tolerance, glucose metabolism, and virtually all known physiological processes.
Lefkowitz never intended to make research the focus of his career. As a child, he read medical fiction and detective stories, and decided that he wanted to become a physician. He went to medical school at Columbia University, finishing first in his class. During a fellowship at the National Institutes of Health from 1968 to 1970, he became interested in receptor biology, a field that was then in its infancy.