Post #021: Alfred Goodman Gilman (1941-2015)

Glasgow, July 31, 2018

One of the most prominent figures in pharmacology is Alfred Goodman Gilman. His father was Alfred Gilman (Sr) [1], who established the famous textbook [2] with Louis S. Goodman [3]; Alfred Goodman Gilman was born on the year the first edition of the textbook was published (1941), and has grown up in an environment of remarkable scientific motivation. He studied biochemistry at Yale University and completed his MD/PhD at the Case Western Reserve University, after an invitation by Earl Sutherland [4]. He subsequently undertook postdoctoral work under Marshall W. Nirenberg [5] at the National Institute of Health, and it was there when he established a what was to become a popular sensitive assay for the measurement of cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP); a critical second messenger of numerous biological functions. He subsequently joined the faculty of the University of Virginia, where in the 1970s he made a series of discoveries around the existence and role of the heterotrimeric G protein family through the undertaking of ingenious experiments [6]. This work of paramount importance for the elucidation of both biological functions and pharmacological actions, has formed a basis of his thereafter research work, and offered him a number of accolades, including the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize for Biology or Biochemistry (1989; shared with Edwin G. Krebs), the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award (shared with Sir Michael John Berridge, Edwin G. Krebs, and Yasutomi Nishizuka), and the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1994; shared with Martin Rodbell).

Alfred Goodman Gilman

Autograph of Alfred Goodman Gilman (author’s personal archive)

A “prince” of science, Alfred Goodman Gilman exerted remarkable skill and persistence in making the most out of his luck. He edited several editions of his father’s definitive textbook [7], and provided exceptional mentorship and administrative services throughout his career [8]. A man with a “religious zeal” for scientific integrity [9], Alfred Goodman Gilman serves as an example of scientific achievement through uncompromised commitment and resourceful intelligence. He died of cancer in 2015.


Notes: [1]: Alfred Gilman (1908-1984); [2]: (Goodman & Gilman’s) The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics, also known as the “Blue Bible” of pharmacology; [3]: Louis S. Goodman (1906-2000); [4]: Earl Wilbur Sutherland Jr (1915-1974; 1971 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on discoveries concerning the mechanisms of the action of hormones via second messengers like cAMP); [5]: Marshall Warren Nirenberg (1927-2010; 1968 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine); [6]: see, for example, The Journal of Biological Chemistry 1977; 252: 6966-9; [7]: he served as an Associate Editor for the fifth (1970), an Editor for the sixth (1975), seventh (1985), eighth (1990), and a Consulting Editor for the ninth (1996) and tenth (2001) edition of the Blue Bible; [8]: see the excellent obituary by Robert J. Lefkowitz in Nature 2016; 529: 284; [9]: Geoff Watts provides a very complimentary ethography of Alfred Goodman Gilman in Lancet 2016; 387: 938.

Citation: Zarros A. Post #021: Alfred Goodman Gilman (1941-2015). 2018; 31-Jul.