NIH 1998 Almanac/Lectures and Nobel Laureates/
NIH Nobel Prize Winners
1968--Dr. Marshall W. Nirenberg,
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering the key to deciphering the genetic code. Dr. Nirenberg and two other researchers, working independently, with whom he shared the prize, made major advances in understanding the chemical mechanisms by which genetic language or information is translated into various proteins that determine the nature and characteristics of all living things. Dr. Nirenberg was the first NIH Nobelist and also the first Federal employee to receive a Nobel Prize.
1970--Dr. Julius Axelrod,
National Institute of Mental Health--shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with two scientists from England and Sweden--for independent research into the chemistry of nerve transmission. The three were cited for their “discoveries concerning the humoral transmitters in the nerve terminals and the mechanisms for their storage, release and inactivation.” Specifically, Dr. Axelrod found an enzyme that terminates the action of the nerve transmitter, noradrenaline. He also demonstrated that some antidepressant drugs act by preventing the reuptake of noradrenaline and thus prolong its action in the brain.
1972--Dr. Christian B. Anfinsen--
formerly with the National Institute of Arthritis, Metabolism, and Digestive Diseases--won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work “on ribonuclease, especially concerning the connection between the amino acid sequence and the biologically active conformation.” Dr. Anfinsen provided the first clue to the structure of ribonuclease by demonstrating that it is comprised of a single polypeptide chain. He and his colleagues at Rockefeller University (with whom he shared the prize) demonstrated that the information required to fold the polypeptide chain of ribonuclease into the specific three-dimensional form of the active enzyme resides in the sequence of amino acids. Therefore, it became clear that this protein could be synthesized in the laboratory by joining the proper amino acids in the correct order and then allowing the chain of amino acids to fold spontaneously. This led to the first synthesis of an enzyme from chemicals in the laboratory. Such studies are basic to an understanding of normal life processes as well as of inherited metabolic diseases.
1976--Dr. D. Carleton Gajdusek,
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Dr. Baruch S. Blumberg, of the Institute for Cancer Research in Philadelphia. They won the award for their discoveries concerning new mechanisms for the origin and dissemination of infectious diseases. Dr. Blumberg was at NIH (with the National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases) in the 1960's, and did part of his prizewinning research at NIH.
1994--Dr. Martin Rodbell,
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Dr. G. Alfred Gilman of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas. Dr. Rodbell discovered in 1970 that signal transmission requires a cellular molecule called GTP. In 1977 Dr. Gillman identified the proteins to which GTP binds and named them “G proteins.” They are a family of proteins bound to the cell surface membranes that serve as intermediaries between incoming signals and cellular proteins that respond to these signals. Dr. Rodbell conducted this research while an intramural scientist with the National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases (now NIDDK).