Alumnus, Nobel Laureate Alfred Gilman passes away

Alfred G. GilmanA Case Western Reserve University alumnus and Nobel Prize winner known as a pioneer in education and research passed away late last month. Alfred G. Gilman, MD, PhD (MED ’69; GRS ’69, pharmacology), a Nobel Laureate in physiology and medicine, died in Dallas at the age of 74.

Gilman earned the Nobel Prize—shared with researcher Martin Rodbell—in 1994, for the discovery of G proteins, which are critical in understanding cell signaling and communications. G proteins allow cells to receive messages through the cell surface receptors, called G protein-coupled receptors, or GPCRs, and then initiate responses. Today, G proteins are targets of many life-changing medicines; researchers have linked abnormal G proteins to such diseases as cancer and diabetes.

Later in his career, he advanced that discovery by obtaining atomic-level structures of G proteins and their adenylate cyclase target, which allowed for better understanding of regulation and control of hormone action.

A Yale University undergraduate alumnus, Gilman was attracted to Western Reserve University for the opportunity to pursue a medical degree and research doctorate simultaneously; he was among the first MD/PhD dual-degree students at the medical school and the Department of Pharmacology

During his time at Western Reserve, Gilman was mentored by Earl Sutherland Jr., who launched the dual MD/PhD program at the university; Sutherland went on to receive the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1971 for his discoveries in the actions of hormones.

After graduation, Gilman completed two years of postdoctoral training at the National Institutes of Health under the guidance of Nobel Laureate Marshall Nirenberg, who received the honor for physiology and medicine in 1968.

Gilman then spent 10 years on the University of Virginia–Charlottesville Department of Pharmacology’s faculty, and served as director of the Medical Scientist Training Program, where he mentored countless students.

Gilman headed to Dallas in 1981 to chair the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. He became dean of the school in 2004, and two years later was named executive vice president for academic affairs and provost. Gilman retired from the university in 2009 to become chief scientific officer of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

Krzysztof Palczewski, current chair of pharmacology at Case Western Reserve University, first met Gilman in 1989 at the Miami Winter Symposium.

“It was easy to recognize that Dr. Gilman was an intellectual giant, and I knew that our paths would cross again as I attempted to learn just a little from his decades of experience in a variety of biomedical disciplines,” Palczewski said. “He was kind, inquisitive, and eloquent, and willing to share. He had an unquenchable curiosity and an impressive ability to contribute to discussions of broad-ranging interest.”

Gilman’s father, also named Alfred, wrote what is considered to be the most acclaimed textbook in the pharmacology field with Louis S. Goodman in 1941.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Gilman went on to serve as associate editor and later primary editor of Goodman & Gilman’s The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics, widely accepted as the “bible of pharmacology.”

Over the years, Gilman achieved such accolades as the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award in 1989 and membership in the National Academy of Science. He served on the board of directors of the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Eli Lilly and Co. and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, which he co-founded.

Gilman is survived by his wife, Kathryn; his daughter Amy Ariagno and her husband, Michael; his daughter Anne Sincovec and her husband, James; his son, Ted, and his wife, Frances; and five grandchildren.

A private service for Gilman will be held this month. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science or the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.