Growing up in New Haven as the son of a Yale pharmacologist, Alfred G. Gilman, M.D., Ph.D., recalls feeling at home in the laboratory from an early age. “My father was spectacularly good at showing me the joy of science,” said Dr. Gilman, who also pursued a career in pharmacology and in 1994 won the Nobel Prize for his research into G proteins. He discussed research into the proteins, his own and that of other scientists, during the 11th Annual Lee E. Farr, M.D., Lecture on Student Research Day, in May.
“G proteins mediate everything from sex in yeast to cognition in humans,” said Dr. Gilman, the Raymond and Ellen Willie Distinguished Chair in Molecular Neuro-pharmacology, Regental Professor and Chairman, Department of Pharmacology at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. The proteins have been likened to a switchboard operator who receives messages and makes sure they reach the proper recipient. Failure in that task can cause disease. Researchers have linked malfunctioning G proteins to alcoholism, diabetes, cancerous tumors and cholera. Dr. Gilman and Martin Rodbell, Ph.D., a scientist emeritus at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in North Carolina, shared the Nobel Prize for identifying G proteins and their role in the signaling process.
John N. Forrest Jr., M.D., director of the Office of Student Research, said the day “celebrates 159 years of a tradition unique in American medicine.” Yale requires medical students to write a thesis on a research project in order to graduate. “The value of the thesis,” Dr. Forrest said, “is not the concept of trying for a scientific career, but to teach that all physicians are scientists.”
“This is the day that a lot of us look forward to,” said Dean David A. Kessler, M.D., “because it really defines us as a school.”
“Being in a laboratory situation and working with a leading scientist in the field of interest is really a critical part of my medical education,” said Jeffrey Reynolds, one of five students who won awards for their theses. “I feel that, having done this project, I have access intellectually to most of the things I can read in the literature. Without it, I wouldn’t really be able to look critically at the literature.”
“It changes your perspective when you’re in a clinical situation to have that research perspective,” said Nicole Ullrich, another award-winning student.
This year students prepared 63 posters showing the results of their studies. Five students made oral presentations of their award-winning theses. They were: Dr. Reynolds, Phenotypic Expression of Glucorticoid-Remediable Aldosteronism in a Large Kindred (Internal Medicine); Alan Cheng, JAK3 and the Pathogenesis of Severe Combined Immunodeficiency: Insights into Structure and Function (Immunobiology); John Forman, Recombinant Vesicular Stomatitis Viruses Expressing HIV-1 Gag and Env Genes Generate HIV-Like Particles and Elicit Anti-HIV Immune Responses in Mice (Pathology); Nirit Weiss, Carotid Body Chemoreceptors: Mechanisms of Neurotransmitter Release (Pediatrics); and Dr. Ullrich, Properties and Function of Chloride Channels in Human Glial Tumors (Neurobiology).