USF professor recalls Nobel Prize-winning mentor
Published: Monday, October 22, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 22, 2012 00:10
The Nobel Prize for chemistry was awarded last week to the mentor of a USF cardiologist hoping to teach his ways to students.
Dr. Stephen Liggett, who worked under Dr. Robert Lefkowitz — a cardiologist who won 2012’s Nobel Prize for Chemistry — at Duke University from 1988 to 1992, joined USF this summer as director of USF Health’s Personalized Medicine Institute, vice dean for research, vice dean and associate vice president for
Personalized Medicine and Genomics, and professor of Medicine and Molecular Physiology and Pharmacology.
In Lefkowitz’s laboratory, Liggett studied G-protein coupled receptors, which he said are a master set of receptors expressed in every part of the body that control virtually all physiological functions and are also the target for more than 50 percent of all drugs used to treat diseases.
“The opportunity to learn not only from Dr. Lefkowitz was very exhilarating,” Liggett said. “Not only was it a good area of science, but he was a great mentor as well.”
Liggett said he remembers Lefkowitz coming into the lab on Saturday mornings, which was the perfect time to talk to him about research people were working on.
“In my situation, I was always in the middle of an experiment with 500 test tubes, and I’d be pipetting into them and paying very close attention to what I was doing,” Liggett said. “(Lefkowitz) would come by and I’d lose my place. The experiment, more than once he ruined, but it was better to stop and get a chance to talk with him outside of a small group meeting.”
“Night science” was something that usually happened in the lab, Liggett said.
While many experiments began in the morning, it took a few hours before data would start rolling in, and by the time it was available, post-doctoral fellows were the only ones still working in the lab.
He said it gave them a great opportunity to “think whimsically” aboutt what data meant.
“When we did night science with Dr. Lefkowitz, it was like, ‘what if we did this?’” Liggett said. “There is no hypothesis.
It’s just ‘no one’s ever done this, let’s do this.’ And the results would be amazing sometimes and would lead to a completely new area of research.”
The lab was partially funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute where 30 postdoctoral fellows worked.
Dr. Stephen Klasko, vice president for Health Sciences and dean of the College of Medicine, said USF Health’s ability to recruit high-profile scholars can help it develop its program.
“USF Health has an opportunity to be the leader in the burgeoning field of personalized medicine and molecular genomics,” he said. “We needed to find an internationally heralded leader that had the National Institutes of Health credentials and the ability to translate that research into action. Dr Liggett is such a leader and his work at University of Maryland, with the NIH and through his startup companies, made him an ideal candidate for our entrepreneurial academic model.”