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Brian Kobilka ’81MD: What’s up, doc? The Nobel in chemistry.

Despite his Minnesota roots, “I don’t have friends that have a really good Swedish accent,” says Brian Kobilka ’81MD. So when his phone rang in the middle of the night on Wednesday and the callers said they were from the Nobel committee in Stockholm, “I started believing it.”

Kobilka, a Yale-trained cardiologist, learned that he was sharing the Nobel Prize in chemistry with his former mentor and longtime collaborator Robert Lefkowitz. On opposite coasts—Kobilka chairs the Department of Molecular and Cellular Physiology at Stanford, while Lefkowitz teaches at Duke—the pair study G-protein-coupled receptors. Their discovery of how cells receive chemical messages “paved the way for an estimated 40 percent of the prescription drugs available today,” the Los Angeles Times reports.

It’s unusual for two physicians, neither one a PhD, to win the Nobel in chemistry. “A lot of what we do is self-taught,” Lefkowitz tells the LA Times. Kobilka adds that, for all his success in the lab, he kept up his cardiology practice for years: “You hold onto it because you’re afraid you might fail in research.”

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