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Dr. Alfred G. Gilman, UTSW Nobel Laureate: 1941-2015

DALLAS – December 23, 2015 – Nobel Laureate Dr. Alfred G. Gilman, former Chairman of Pharmacology and Dean of the UT Southwestern Medical School, as well as former Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost at UT Southwestern Medical Center, died on Dec. 23, 2015 after a long illness. He was 74 years old.

In 1994, Dr. Gilman shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Dr. Martin Rodbell of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences for their discovery of G proteins (guanine nucleotide-binding regulatory proteins). G proteins are central to signaling transduction, the process of receiving signals from outside the cell and activating a range of cellular responses.

It is now known that G proteins are found in virtually all cells, and are central to fundamental body processes including vision, smell, hormone secretion, and thinking in humans. Problems in G-protein signaling contribute to a range of diseases, including cholera, whooping cough, and cancer.

“Dr. Gilman was a giant in medical research. His discovery of G proteins and their critical functions is a cornerstone of research across virtually every important domain of medicine,” said Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, President of UT Southwestern Medical Center. “As a scientist, teacher, and leader, Dr. Gilman’s contributions are legion. He mentored many scientists who have gone on to become leaders in their fields, and his dedication to serving UT Southwestern was unwavering. Dr. Gilman will be missed by the entire UT Southwestern community and our heartfelt sympathies are with his family,” added Dr. Podolsky, who holds the Philip O’Bryan Montgomery, Jr., M.D. Distinguished Presidential Chair in Academic Administration, and the Doris and Bryan Wildenthal Distinguished Chair in Medical Science.

Dr. Gilman served as Chairman of Pharmacology at UT Southwestern for more than two decades. He retired from the Medical Center in 2009 as a Regental Professor Emeritus to assume the position of Chief Scientific Officer of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), a position he held until 2012.

On Dec. 4, 2014, the UT System Board of Regents approved the creation of the Alfred G. Gilman Distinguished Chair in Pharmacology, which honors his numerous contributions to UT Southwestern, and supports the Chairman of the Department of Pharmacology and efforts in Pharmacology. The endowment, totaling $1 million, was made possible by a variety of donors, and the inaugural holder of the chair is Dr. David Mangelsdorf, Chairman of Pharmacology at UT Southwestern, who was Dr. Gilman’s successor in the Department.

"I was privileged to know him as a great scientist, a great mentor, and above all, as a great human being. I am truly honored to be a part of his legacy at UT Southwestern," said Dr. Mangelsdorf, holder of the Alfred G. Gilman Distinguished Chair in Pharmacology, as well as the Raymond and Ellen Willie Distinguished Chair in Molecular Neuropharmacology in Honor of Harold B. Crasilneck, Ph.D., and a Professor of Biochemistry.

As a leader in the scientific community, Dr. Gilman was outspoken in defense of scientific integrity and in advocating for rigorous science education. In 2009, he wrote an op-ed column on behalf of a group of scientists urging the Texas Board of Education to resist attempts to de-emphasize the teaching of evolution. “Failure to provide our children with a sound, modern education puts them at a serious disadvantage when they compete or engage with the rest of the world,” he wrote.

In 2012, he became the first UT Southwestern Nobel Laureate to donate his medal to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, saying it gave him enormous pleasure to think that it might inspire a new generation of scientists.

Dr. Gilman was born on July 1, 1941, in New Haven, Conn., the son of the renowned pharmacologist Dr. Alfred Gilman, who was on the faculty at Yale University and who, along with Dr. Louis S. Goodman, authored the preeminent textbook The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics. The elder Gilman chose his son’s middle name, Goodman, in honor of Dr. Goodman. Although the younger Dr. Gilman enjoyed repeating a friend’s quip that he’d been named after a textbook, he counted among his proudest achievements becoming primary editor of multiple editions of the same textbook from 1980 to 1990.

The younger Dr. Gilman received his bachelor of science summa cum laude in biochemistry from Yale University in 1962, followed by his M.D. and doctorate degree in pharmacology in 1969 from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

He completed his postdoctoral training in the Laboratory of Biochemical Genetics at the National Institutes of Health (1969 to 1971). From there, he went to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where he discovered G proteins in 1977.

In 1981, he became Chairman of Pharmacology at UT Southwestern, where he continued to characterize G proteins. His observations provided the first firm molecular basis for understanding certain signal transduction processes present throughout nature.

“In 1981, Al Gilman became our neighbor in a nearby lab on the fifth floor. We immediately became friends because of several shared passions, particularly for hard core science. Of all the scientists I have known, Al had the most unrelenting commitment to scientific integrity. He could not abide sloppy or phony science, and he said so openly, even when it would have been much safer to stay silent. We may never see the like of him again,” said Nobel Laureate Dr. Michael Brown, Regental Professor of the UT System, Director of the Erik Jonsson Center for Research in Molecular Genetics and Human Disease, who holds the W.A. (Monty) Moncrief Distinguished Chair in Cholesterol and Arteriosclerosis Research and the Paul J. Thomas Chair in Medicine.

Fellow Nobel Laureate Dr. Joseph Goldstein, Regental Professor of the UT System and Chairman of Molecular Genetics at UT Southwestern who shared the 1985 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Dr. Brown for their discovery of the basic mechanism of cholesterol metabolism, said that Dr. Gilman’s character and high standards helped generate preeminence in all he was associated with.

“Those of us privileged  to have worked closely with Al Gilman came to know him as a researcher of high distinction, an advocate for the importance of pharmacology and physiology, and a leader of extraordinary skill,” said Dr. Goldstein,  who holds the Julie and Louis A. Beecherl, Jr. Distinguished Chair in Biomedical Research, and the Paul J. Thomas Chair in Medicine. “And rarest of all among academics, Al was a pillar of sanity and integrity – someone who could be trusted to make the right decision in ticklish situations.”

The UT System Board of Regents named Dr. Gilman a Regental Professor in 1995.

In 2004, Dr. Gilman became director of a new research center at UT Southwestern – the Cecil H. and Ida Green Comprehensive Center for Molecular, Computational and Systems Biology – devoted to a new field he described as working “to begin to understand how all the ‘parts’ of cells – genes, proteins, and many other molecules – work together to create complex living organisms.” That same year, he was named Dean of UT Southwestern Medical School. In 2006, he added the title of Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost of UT Southwestern.

After retiring from UT Southwestern, Dr. Gilman served as the first Scientific Director of the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), recruiting eminent scientists from around the country to establish a review process that ensured integrity and the highest standards in the evaluation of research proposals. He had previously led the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Alliance for Signal Transduction, which brought together leading investigators from the country's best research institutions in a collaborative effort to define the molecular pathways controlling the most important cellular processes.

Along with the Nobel Prize, his many honors included election to the National Academy of Sciences (1985), winning the Lasker Basic Medical Research Award (1989), and an honorary doctor of medicine from Yale University (1997).

Immediate survivors include his wife Kathryn; daughters, Amy Ariagno and Anne Sincovec; and son, Edward Gilman.

About UT Southwestern Medical Center

UT Southwestern, one of the premier academic medical centers in the nation, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s distinguished faculty has included six who have been awarded Nobel Prizes since 1985. The faculty of more than 2,700 is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide medical care in 40 specialties to about 92,000 hospitalized patients and oversee approximately 2.1 million outpatient visits a year. 

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Media Contact: Russell Rian
214-648-3404
russell.rian@utsuothwestern.edu

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