department of pharmacology


Nobel Laureates


Earl W. Sutherland, Jr.
Earl W. Sutherland, Jr.

Ferid Murad
Ferid Murad

Alfred Goodman Gilman
Alfred Gilman

Sutherland, Gilman, Murad. These names may not be as familiar as Wilson, Smith, or Jones, but to the Department of Pharmacology, they represent a hallmark of research excellence.

The three—Earl W. Sutherland Jr., Ferid Murad, and Alfred Goodman Gilman—each received the Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine. Each had ties to the pharmacology department at what was then the Western Reserve University (WRU) School of Medicine, and their lives intersected at different points of their academic and professional careers.

Earl Sutherland Jr., served as professor and chair of pharmacology at WRU School of Medicine from 1953 to 1963. There he intensified his work on hormones, emphasizing the role of a substance known as cyclic AMP as a signaler or "second messenger" in the production of glucose. He left the university in 1963 bound for Vanderbilt University's School of Medicine, where he completed his career.

Dr. Sutherland's discovery offers some solace to those whose work areas are constantly cluttered. Not a "clean desk" person, he would cover the papers that had accumulated each week with a sheet of white paper and periodically would clear them all away. In one such cleaning effort, he noticed two unrelated letters from researchers elsewhere reporting results of their research, and he was able to see the potential connections to them, which advanced his own work and that of others.

His Nobel Prize, received in 1971, recognized him for "his discoveries concerning the mechanisms of the action of hormones." He died in 1974.

During his time at WRU, Dr. Sutherland mentored two students, Ferid Murad and Alfred G. Gilman, who would later earn their own Nobel Prize.

Ferid Murad was pondering medical school when he learned of the M.D./Ph.D. program at WRU, and particularly the pharmacology program led by Dr. Sutherland, whose son he had known in college.

The medical school's curriculum appealed to Dr. Murad. He came to WRU, where Dr. Sutherland and Theodore Rall became his research mentors. He was drawn to the program because "the new experimental integrated organ-system approach to medical education permitted me to assimilate and integrate information more readily." He earned his M.D./Ph.D. in pharmacology in 1965.

Dr. Murad has researched "second messengers and hormone signaling," important functions that help trigger regulating and self-correcting measures in the body. His own work led him to share the Nobel Prize in 1998 for his discoveries concerning "nitric oxide as a signaling molecule in the cardiovascular system."

His career has included work at the National Institutes of Health, at the University of Virginia and Stanford University, at Abbott Laboratories, and other places in the industry. Dr. Murad is currently at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston and is a member of the Case Western Reserve University Board of Trustees.

Alfred G. Gilman believed from his youth that he would work in biomedical research. The reputation and research of Dr. Sutherland and his colleagues, who sought to understand the function of cyclic AMP, attracted Dr. Gilman to the WRU medical school. He also liked the university's innovative program that made it possible to work simultaneously toward a medical degree and a research doctorate. He entered the M.D./Ph.D. program in 1962 and completed his medical degree and doctorate in pharmacology in 1969.

Dr. Gilman went on to the National Institute of General Medicine Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland, before moving to the University of Virginia, where he joined former fellow student, Dr. Murad, and others from Cleveland.

In his research at Virginia, and since 1981 at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Dr. Gilman discovered, characterized, and purified a set of guanine nucleotide-binding regulatory proteins called G proteins. He describes this work, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine in 1994, as providing "for the first time a firm molecular basis for understanding certain signal transduction processes present throughout nature."

Get to know the Noebl Prize Winners

Alfred G. Gilman, The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1994

Earl W. Sutherland, Jr., The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1971

Ferid Murad, The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1998