Friends, science and a Nobel prize

July 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

Goldstein (left) and Brown (right) over 43 years of their friendship.

I’ve recently been thinking of the value of friendships at work after reading the latest JBC Reflections article. This article is by Michael Brown and Joseph Goldstein, a pair of friends at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. But what sets Brown and Goldstein apart from other friends is that they can claim that their relationship brought scientific breakthroughs and a Nobel prize.

Brown and Goldstein first met as medical interns at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston in 1966. Brown was from Philadelphia (and incidentally had aspirations to be a journalist). Goldstein was from a small town in South Carolina. Despite their different backgrounds, “we were drawn together by a shared fascination with clinical medicine and medical science and a desire to one day make discoveries of significance to both,” they write.

In the early 1970s, Brown and Goldstein moved to UT-Southwestern, where they began to study homozygous familial hypercholesterolemia, a rare disease of high cholesterol levels that causes cardiovascular problems in children with the condition. Between 1972 and 1985, Brown and Goldstein established the disease’s underlying molecular mechanisms, leading to the discovery of the low-density lipoprotein receptor, its role in receptor-mediated endocytosis and how it controlled blood cholesterol levels. In 1985, they were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology “for their discoveries concerning the regulation of cholesterol metabolism.”

In their JBC Reflections article, Brown and Goldstein opted not to focus on their famous work but instead discussed six projects they have pursued over the years that cover both basic and applied science. I’m not going to list the projects here but highly encourage you to read the article for the details. 

For their voluminous scientific output, Brown and Goldstein credit their students and postdoctoral fellows, their institute and the philanthropic support from members of the Dallas community, including Ross Perot. The philanthropic support has been critical, they say in their article: “When we embarked on each of our six excursions, we had no preliminary data of the type required by review committees of the National Institutes of Health.” All they had, they say, were “outrageous hypotheses.”

The mutual respect and admiration that the two men have for each other comes through in the JBC Reflections article, with its warmth and good humor. As I said, it got me thinking about my friends at work. I already love what I do, but having co-workers whom I can also regard as friends is just the cherry on top.

Are there any other famous friends in science that my readers can name?

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