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Faculty Members Have Ties to Nobel Prize Winners | Community Spirit

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Faculty Members Have Ties to Nobel Prize Winners
Faculty Members Have Ties to Nobel Prize Winners

 Two Georgia College faculty members were trained alongside the recent winners of the Nobel Prize in Medicine.  

James Rothman, Randy Schekman and Thomas Sudhof jointly won the 2013 Nobel Prize For Physiology or Medicine earlier this month.  

The trio earned the prize for their discoveries of machinery regulating vesicle traffic, which unraveled "the mystery of how the cell organizes its transport of membrane proteins."

Dr. Mike Gleason, a professor in biological sciences worked in the laboratory of Dr. James Rothman, who was one of the winners.

“I was employed as a research associate in his lab at Stanford,” said Gleason. “While working in his laboratory, I finished writing my thesis and earned my Ph.D. in biochemistry from Oklahoma State University in 1988.”

Gleason assisted Rothman on two publications and also had the opportunity to work with several young scientists in Rothman’s lab at Stanford University.

“I actually heard about him winning the award from a student in one of my classes, and what made it remarkable was that I was, at the time, lecturing on the molecular mechanisms of vesicular transport, which is at the very center of the scholarship that was awarded this Nobel Prize.”

From a medical standpoint, this area of study is central to understanding the pathology of many disease processes, including those caused by viruses and cancer.  

“Rothman was great at seeing all of the different controls and experiments that would be needed to make the case for a hypothesis or to disprove another,” said Gleason. “This invaluable training is something I’ve tried to pass onto my own students.”

Dr. Ellen France, an associate professor in biological science, obtained her Ph.D. with Dr. Peter Novick at Yale. Novick worked with Dr. Randy Schekman, another of the recipients, on several studies. Novick’s publication in 1979, based on his dissertation research, was specifically cited for its contribution when the Nobel Prize was awarded. Novick was also recently selected as a member of National Academy of Science.

“My Ph.D. advisor at Yale University was Novick. He was one of the first graduate students of Schekman at UC Berkeley,” said France. “My thesis was based on their initial research. For the reason of this connection, I have met Schekman several times. The first time was as a graduate student in Novick’s lab. I’ve also had the honor of introducing my research students to him since I’ve been at Georgia College.”  

The three Nobel Laureates discovered a fundamental process in cell physiology, and their discoveries have had a major impact on the understanding of how cargo is delivered with timing and precision in and outside the cell.

“My colleague Dr. Mike Gleason and I have been anticipating this for the past few years, thinking that it would be a matter of time before they received the award,” said France. “So, it was not a huge surprise for me to hear the announcement on National Public Radio that morning.”

For both professors, the experience learning from and with these renowned scientists has impacted their careers.

“I try to share all my experiences as a graduate student, both good and bad, to train my students in a realistic mindset. So far, many of the research students I have trained have gone on to pursue a Ph.D. at terrific institutions,” said France.

Gleason and France plan to continue their own lines of research in vesicle trafficking with the assistance of biology undergraduate and graduate students.

Several Georgia College students also had the chance to meet one of the Nobel winners earlier this earlier this year. They met Dr. Randy Schekman at the Southeast Regional Yeast Meeting (SERYM) in Birmingham.

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