John D. Rockefeller is arguably history’s single greatest funder of biomedical research. The son of a wandering folk-medicine salesman, Rockefeller himself was a lifelong believer in homeopathy. Yet his resources funded many of the most significant medical advances of the 20th century. His efforts began in 1901, when he founded America’s first research institution for experimental medicine: the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, or RIMR. (Since 1965, it has been known as Rockefeller University.) He expanded his funding of biomedical research in 1913 with the creation of the Rockefeller Foundation. In the century since then, it has funded many promising scholars and organizations dedicated to advancing our understanding of human health.
The influence of Rockefeller’s combined philanthropies on modern medical science has been profound. Especially in the first 50 years of their existence, the biomedical research institutions founded by Rockefeller showed a remarkable ability to locate seminal investigators and underwrite their work. For many researchers, their Rockefeller funding arrived at a formative time, in a considerable number of cases early in their careers, just as they embarked on their climactic research.
As one demonstration of the remarkable influence of Rockefeller money on medical discovery, consider the list below. These are Nobel laureates in Medicine or Chemistry (plus one Peace Prize winner) who received research funding from Rockefeller-founded research institutions.
Philanthropy has been able to locate an astonishing 47 Nobel Prize winners who received significant financial support from Rockefeller generosity before they earned their Nobels. Another 14 Nobel laureates were supported by a Rockefeller-founded entity sometime after their award, allowing them to expand their research or to mentor a new generation of scientists.
The influence of Rockefeller’s funding reached its peak in the 1960s and ’70s, and then went into decline. There were three Rockefeller-linked winners up to 1929, then six in the 1930s, seven in the 1940s, and seven more in the ’50s. There were 11 Rockefeller-related laureates in the 1960s, and 13 more in the 1970s. Then came five in the ’80s, four in the ’90s, and three in the 2000s, with two so far in the 2010s.
Alexis Carrel, 1912 Nobel Prize in Medicine, “for his work on vascular suture and the transplantation of blood vessels and organs.” Carrel’s innovations in suturing made post-operation problems like hemorrhaging much less common, saving countless lives. His research on the methods of organ transplantation was the groundwork for future advances in 20th century transplant operations. Before receiving the Nobel Prize, Carrel had joined RIMR as an associate member, becoming a full member in 1912. It was at RIMR that he conducted his groundbreaking experiments.
Otto Fritz Meyerhof, 1922 Nobel Prize in Medicine, “for his discovery of the fixed relationship between the consumption of oxygen and the metabolism of lactic acid in the muscle.” The Rockefeller Foundation gave Meyerhof $20,000 ($315,000 in current funds) to establish his work at the University of Pennsylvania after he had to flee from the Nazi invasion in France.
Hans Karl August Simon von Euler-Chelpin, 1929 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, “for his investigations on the fermentation of sugar and fermentative enzymes,” studies that advanced understanding of the physical and chemical processes of life itself. The Rockefeller Foundation founded the Vitamin Institute and Institute of Biochemistry in Stockholm, where von Euler-Chelpin was made director the year he was awarded the Nobel Prize.
Karl Landsteiner, 1930 Nobel Prize in Medicine, “for his discovery of human blood groups.” Landsteiner’s discovery of variations in human blood kinds based on different antigens led to the categorization of blood types in 1901 that, with some modification, is still used today. His revolutionary insight was the missing link in successful blood transfusions, which previously had caused millions of deaths and medical complications since the Middle Ages. After joining RIMR in 1922, Landsteiner continued to conduct research on human blood groups.
Otto Heinrich Warburg, 1931 Nobel Prize in Medicine, “for his discovery of the nature and mode of action of the respiratory enzyme.” His discovery of cell respiration led Warburg to hypothesize that a cell’s failure to respirate is a source of cancer. In 1930, the Rockefeller Foundation funded the establishment of Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Cell Physiology, with Warburg as director from 1931.
Edgar Douglas Adrian, 1932 Nobel Prize in Medicine, for “discoveries regarding the functions of neurons.” He was a trustee of RIMR.
George H. Whipple, 1934 Nobel Prize in Medicinem “for his discoveries concerning liver therapy in cases of anemia.” Whipple served on the board of scientific directors of RIMR from 1936 to 1953, on the board of trustees from 1939 to 1953, as vice chairman from 1953 to 1960, and as trustee emeritus after 1960.
Albert Szent-Györgyi de Nagyrápolt, 1937 Nobel Prize in Medicine, “for his discoveries in connection with the biological combustion processes, with special reference to vitamin C and the catalysis of fumaric acid.” With a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation in 1927, Szent-Györgyi was able to complete his Ph.D. at Cambridge University, where he discovered vitamin C. The discovery of this vital nutrient for immune support put an end to a common life-threatening scourge: scurvy. In 1952, the foundation also supported the Institute for Muscle Research, founded by Szent-Györgyi at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
Leopold Ruzicka, 1939 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, “for his work on polymethylenes and higher terpenes.” His research helped scientists to understand the previously unknown physiology of sex hormones like testosterone and androsterone. The Rockefeller Foundation supported Ruzicka’s work from 1938 with a grant of $58,800 ($1 million) and increased its support to $150,000 ($1.8 million) in 1946, which allowed scientists from across the global to work in his famous lab.
Henrik Carl Peter Dam, 1943 Nobel Prize in Medicine, “for his discovery of vitamin K.” The discovery of vitamin K was an accidental byproduct of a cholesterol study that the Rockefeller Foundation funded between 1932 and 1933. Knowledge of vitamin K has since given medical scientists insights into preventative treatment of ailments possibly caused by vitamin K deficiency, including bleeding disorders, osteoporosis, and coronary heart disease. After receiving the Nobel Prize in 1945, Dam became an associate member of RIMR.
George de Hevesy, 1943 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, “for his work on the use of isotopes as tracers in the study of chemical processes.” His discoveries led to a proliferation of further studies on the fundamental biochemical processes of the human body, including digestion and nutrition, therapeutic drug interactions, and the elimination of toxins from the body. In the 1930s, the Rockefeller Foundation funded essential equipment, materials, and research assistants at the Universities of Freiburg and Copenhagen, totaling more than $58,400 ($983,000).
Herbert Spencer Gasser, 1944 Nobel Prize in Medicine, “for his discoveries relating to the highly differentiated functions of single nerve fibres.” His results led to the development of new neurological studies on the sensation of pain. While a professor at Cornell, he was awarded $3,000 ($52,000) in 1934 as a Rockefeller Fellow to advance his landmark discovery in electrophysiology. A year later, Gasser was appointed director of RIMR. His tenure lasted until 1953, during which he served as member of the board of trustees and on the executive committee.
Howard Walter Florey, 1945 Nobel Prize in Medicine, “for the discovery of penicillin and its curative effect in various infectious diseases.” Along with Ernest Chain, Sir Howard revealed the therapeutic results of penicillin antibiotics, labeled “the first miracle drug” for the countless lives saved. Before he began researching penicillin in 1939, Sir Howard visited the United States on a Rockefeller Traveling Fellowship in 1925 and finished a Ph.D. at Cambridge in 1927. The Rockefeller Foundation supported his post-doctoral work on penicillin from 1936 onwards, with grants for research support, equipment, and supplies, totaling $41,500 ($446,000).
John Howard Northrop and Wendell Meredith Stanley, 1946 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, “for their preparation of enzymes and virus proteins in a pure form.” Northrop’s identification of pure enzymes with proteins offered a new understanding of one of the most essential aspects of biology. After finishing his Ph.D., Northrop joined RIMR in 1915 and remained at the institute for the next 70 years. Stanley became an assistant at RIMR in 1931, an associate member in 1937, a member in 1940, and resident until 1948. In 1948, the Rockefeller Foundation donated $100,000 ($960,000) for a new Department of Biochemistry and the Virus Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, under the direction of Stanley, and later gave the laboratory $210,000 ($1.8 million) in 1954. Stanley was also awarded grants to visit Japan’s virus centers in 1966.
Arne Wilhelm Kaurin Tiselius, 1948 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, “for his research on electrophoresis and adsorption analysis, especially for his discoveries concerning the complex nature of the serum proteins.” Modified electrophoresis has since opened the field of molecular biology and made available new biochemical processes, such as DNA sequencing. The Rockefeller Foundation offered Tiselius a Fellowship to continue his research on diffusion and absorption phenomena, and also supported his development of the electrophoresis apparatus. Later grants from the Foundation, totaling $210,000 ($2 million) for highly specialized equipment and research assistant salaries, supported Tiselius’s new Biochemical Institute in Sweden.
Max Theiler, 1951 Nobel Prize in Medicine, “for his discoveries concerning yellow fever and how to combat it.” In the 1930s, Theiler joined the Rockefeller Foundation’s International Health Division and eventually became director of laboratories of RIMR. During his tenure, Theiler and his collaborators produced a safe, effective, and efficiently mass-produced vaccine for yellow fever, a disease previously responsible for millions of deaths.
Fritz Albert Lipmann, 1953 Nobel Prize in Medicine, “for his discovery of co-enzyme A and its importance for intermediary metabolism.” Lipmann’s 1945 discovery of this catalyst, a crucial element in cellular metabolism, generated tremendous progress in the field of biochemistry. His research has since been applied to the medical understanding of the life-saving functions of antibiotics and vitamins. Prior to his findings at the Massachusetts General Hospital, Lipmann was a Rockefeller Fellow at RIMR from 1931 to 1932, a period that provided the foundation for his work on cellular metabolism.
Hans Adolf Krebs, 1953 Nobel Prize in Medicine, “for his discovery of the citric acid cycle,” an essential process for metabolizing carbohydrates, fats, and proteins to sustain life. By revealing how organisms convert the basic elements of food into energy, Krebs’s discovery established a principle of biochemistry and provided insights into malnutrition. From 1933 to 1934, the Rockefeller Foundation supported Krebs at Cambridge University. From 1935 to 1965, the Rockefeller Foundation was a principal supporter of Krebs’ research at the Universities of Sheffield and Oxford, with $181,530 (about $2 million) in total grants.
Thomas Huckle Weller, 1954 Nobel Prize in Medicine, “for his discovery of the ability of poliomyelitis viruses to grow in cultures of various types of tissue.” Weller and his colleagues allowed scientists to rapidly develop a vaccine for polio, causing the debilitating disease to become nearly extinct. Weller’s pioneering procedure also led to the discovery of new pathogens like rubella, providing experimental opportunities to develop vaccines. The Rockefeller Foundation’s training center in Florida supported Weller’s early interest in human diseases as a Harvard medical student, and the Foundation continued to support Weller’s international research in virology into the 1960s.
Hugo Theorell, 1955 Nobel Prize in Medicine, “for his discoveries concerning the nature and mode of action of oxidation enzymes.” His research led to a greater understanding of the mechanisms by which food is broken down for energy, particularly the enzymes related to milk lactose and alcohol. Using his research, Theorell developed the first breathalyzer test for blood alcohol concentration. With a Rockefeller Fellowship from 1933 to 1935, Theorell worked at the Freie Universität Berlin, where he produced his first oxidation enzyme. After Theorell’s transfer to the Karolinska Institute in Sweden in 1935, the Rockefeller Foundation supported his research through the 1960s with over $140,000 ($1.2 million) in grants.
Vincent du Vigneaud, 1955 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, for his work on biochemically important sulfur compounds, especially for the first synthesis of a polypeptide hormone. He was elected to the board of trustees of RIMR.
Joshua Lederberg, 1958 Nobel Prize in Medicine, “for his discoveries concerning genetic recombination and the organization of the genetic material of bacteria.” As a graduate student, Lederberg’s research on the transfer of genetic material between bacterium led to a critical discovery concerning bacterial resistance to drugs. His later research led to the innovation of gene therapy, which transformed the biotechnology industry, creating countless life-saving therapeutic drugs. Lederberg came to Rockefeller University as president from 1978 until 1990, where he continued his research until retirement.
Max Ferdinand Perutz, 1962 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, “for his studies of the structures of globular proteins.” His analysis of hemoglobin led to the discovery of oxygen uptake and release through the bloodstream. A Rockefeller Foundation grant came at a critical time in Perutz’s life, when he desperately lacked funds immediately after Hitler invaded his native Austria, leaving his family refugees. The grant, covering 1939 to 1945, allowed him to work as a research assistant with later Nobel Prize winner Lawrence Bragg at the British National Physical Laboratory and at Cambridge. The foundation sustained Perutz’s laboratory in Cambridge with grants totaling $72,000 (about $400,000), including money for time-saving equipment to analyze his findings on hemoglobin molecules.
Alan Lloyd Hodgkin, 1963 Nobel Prize in Medicine, “for clarifying the electrical signaling mechanism that governs activity throughout the central nervous system,” which improved understanding of neurological disorders. He worked in Gasser’s RIMR laboratory from 1937 to 1938, then continued his research at Cambridge under a Rockefeller Foundation grant. The foundation had sponsored neurophysiological research at Cambridge since 1934, and an $18,000 ($115,000) grant in 1955 provided equipment in Hodgkin’s research group.
Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, 1964 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, “for her determinations by X-ray techniques of the structures of important biochemical substances.” Her development of X-ray crystallography, which determines the atomic architecture of various substances like metals, minerals, semiconductors, and many organic molecules, subsequently launched several important scientific subfields. Because her method reveals detailed information about atomic structure and chemical bonds in molecules, it proved useful for exploring therapeutic benefits of vitamins, minerals, proteins, and DNA, and provided the basis for developing more advanced therapeutic drugs. After receiving the Nobel Prize, Hodgkin also discovered the structure of insulin, the hormone that would be critical for later life-saving diabetes research. As a teacher and Oxford D.Phil. student desperately in need of money, Hodgkin was awarded several modest Rockefeller Foundation grants beginning in 1940. (One of her students during these years was future British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.) From 1949 to 1955, Hodgkin received a total of $16,400 ($150,000) for her crystallography lab in Oxford.
André Lwoff and Jacques Monod, 1965 Nobel Prize in Medicine, “for their discoveries concerning genetic control of enzyme and virus synthesis.” With his first Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship, Lwoff studied biochemistry under Otto Meyerhof at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg. In 1937, he received a Rockefeller Fellowship at Cambridge University to research growth factors, demonstrating that organisms are universally organized by a few identical principles of biology. Early in his career, Monod visited the California Institute of Technology with a Rockefeller grant in 1936. In 1954, the foundation granted $50,000 ($430,000) to the Pasteur Institute’s Department of Biochemistry under the direction of Monod. During their tenure at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, Lwoff and Monod found that some viruses could introduce genetic material into bacteria, transmitting viral genes to subsequent generations through simple cellular division. Their Nobel Prize–winning research fundamentally reshaped the concept of a virus as molecular, thus generating new avenues of research towards understanding and controlling viral replication. Rockefeller supported Monod with $72,500 ($116,000) in 1993 to research the molecular structure of viruses.
Peyton Rous, 1966 Nobel Prize in Medicine, “for his discovery of tumor-inducing viruses.” RIMR sponsored Rous with a grant specifically for early career scientists, lending him freedom to focus on publishing research on lymphocytes. His success led to a position as head of the cancer research laboratory at RIMR in 1909, where he made the groundbreaking discovery that some viruses could cause cancer. His findings influenced the field of cancer research for decades. His further contributions clarified the complex factors involved in cancer growth, with recommendations for more streamlined study of cancer progression. Rous became a member of RIMR in 1920 and member emeritus after 1945.
Haldan Keffer Hartline and Ragnar Granit, 1967 Nobel Prize in Medicine, “for their discoveries concerning the primary physiological and chemical visual processes in the eye.” From 1932 to 1933, the Rockefeller Foundation awarded Granit a grant to study with the leading nerve physiologist at the time. A Rockefeller grant also enabled him to accept a professorship at Karolinska Institute in 1940 while visiting RIMR between 1956 and 1966. During this period, Granit investigated the basic functions of nerve cells, confirming the hypothesis that all colors are variations of blue, green, or red. Hartline introduced a new era of neurophysiology with his discovery of the optical nerve network, a feature of many mammals. His research confirmed that nerve impulses carry visual information to the brain through optical nerves. This led to the further discovery that half of all visual information is already interpreted by other cerebral areas before arrival in the visual cortex. In 1963, Hartline joined RIMR to continue groundbreaking research.
Lars Onsager, 1968 Nobel Prize in Chemistry “for the discovery of the reciprocal relations bearing his name, which are fundamental for the thermodynamics of irreversible processes.” During the year before receiving the Nobel Prize, he was a visiting professor at Rockefeller University.
Max Delbrück, 1969 Nobel Prize in Medicine, “for his discoveries concerning the replication mechanism and the genetic structure of viruses.” Delbrück found that bacterial resistance to viruses is a consequence of genetic mutations. His insights in molecular biology broadly influenced Francis Crick and James Watson’s research and later breakthroughs revealing the molecular structure of DNA. A Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship sent Delbrück to Caltech, where he took the first significant steps toward his prize-winning research.
Odd Hassel, 1969 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, “for his contributions to the development of the concept of conformation and its application in chemistry.” Hassel demonstrated that molecular structures are three-dimensional, not two as previously believed—a discovery that would help chemists to understand the molecular function and bonding essential to all organismic life. In 1955, the Rockefeller Foundation awarded Hassel $12,000 ($105,000) for further research using X-ray crystallography, technology that had enabled him to make his famous discovery.
Ulf von Euler, 1970 Nobel Prize in Medicine, “for his discoveries concerning the humoral transmittors in the nerve terminals and the mechanism for their storage, release and inactivation.” Euler discovered noradrenaline, a key transporter of nerve impulses, and prostaglandins, hormones that regulate changes within the cardiovascular and nervous systems. These discoveries helped to create therapeutic drugs for the alleviation of allergies, ulcers, inflammation, and pain during childbirth. Receiving a Rockefeller Fellowship early in his career enabled him to study in the United Kingdom and Germany, providing the groundwork for his later prize-winning research in physiology and pharmacology. Subsequent Rockefeller grants totaling $34,100 ($441,000) paid for crucial equipment, supplies, and research assistance from the 1930s to the 1950s.
Norman Borlaug, 1970 Nobel Peace Prize, for launching the “Green Revolution,” whose highly productive wheat grains and innovative agricultural practices banished starvation in many regions, saving over a billion lives, and helping to minimize resource-based conflicts. The Rockefeller Foundation was a major supporter of the Cooperative Wheat Research and Production Program in Mexico, where Borlaug began research in 1944 on plant genetics, crop production, and the impact of soil and insect types on harvests. He successfully applied this research to global food production practices, especially in Mexico, India, and Pakistan. In 1961, Rockefeller co-sponsored the International Rice Research Institute with the aim of applying Borlaug’s wheat research to rice production practices. The institute produced a new variety of rice that doubled the amount of rice production in the Philippines, enabling exports of their crop throughout East Asia. In 1966, the foundation also co-founded the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, where Borlaug trained the succeeding generation of international scientists in his revolutionary agricultural techniques.
Gerald M. Edelman, 1972 Nobel Prize in Medicine, “for his discoveries concerning the chemical structure of antibodies.” Edelman’s discovery of the chemical structure of antibodies generated a flurry of medical applications to help the body combat infectious diseases, resulting in a significant decrease in the number of deaths worldwide caused by pathogens. He began this life-saving work at Rockefeller University as a graduate student, remaining there as a professor until 1992.
Christian B. Anfinsen, 1972 Nobel Prize in Chemistry “for his work on ribonuclease, especially concerning the connection between the amino acid sequence and the biologically active conformation.” Anfinsen won the Rockefeller Foundation Public Service Award in 1954.
Stanford Moore and William H. Stein, 1972 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, “for their contribution to the understanding of the connection between chemical structure and catalytic activity of the active center of the ribonuclease molecule.” Moore joined RIMR in 1939, two years after Stein. Except for Moore’s brief interlude supporting the war effort at the Office of Scientific Research Development, both remained scientists at RIMR thereafter. Their collaboration at Rockefeller led to the important discovery that every enzyme exhibits a particular catalytic function determined by its amino acid sequence, a building block for biochemical research and the biotech revolution that erupted later that decade. Physicians also continue to use for disease diagnosis some of the experimental techniques pioneered by Moore and Stein.
Karl von Frisch, 1973 Nobel Prize in Medicine, “for his discoveries concerning organization and elicitation of individual and social behaviour patterns.” Frisch’s major research concerned the communication of honeybees, particularly in their modes of perception and relaying of food source information through dance. His insights concerning the behavior of bees transformed scientific understanding of pollination, a critical process for sustaining complex ecosystems. The Rockefeller Foundation supported Frisch’s early work by sponsoring the establishment of the Zoological Institute at the University of Munich, which he directed in the 1920s.
Albert Claude, Christian de Duve, and George E. Palade, 1974 Nobel Prize in Medicine, “for their discoveries concerning the structural and functional organization of the cell.” As researchers at RIMR, Claude, assisted by de Duve and Palade, refined an observational technique with electron microscopes that produced an intricate mapping of cellular structure and function. Their work generated a renaissance in the fields of cellular biology and chemistry, with critical developments in therapeutic applications. Claude worked at RIMR from 1929, with de Duve’s addition in 1962, the latter having received Foundation support as a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis decades earlier. Palade was a post-doctoral fellow with Claude in 1946, remaining until 1973. Their “Rockefeller Group” formed a major training center for future cellular microscopists.
David Baltimore, 1975 Nobel Prize in Medicine, “for his discoveries concerning the interaction between tumor viruses and the genetic material of the cell.” Six years after receiving his Ph.D. at Rockefeller University, Baltimore discovered the retroviral mode of cellular attack, which hijacks cellular functions for virus replication. His pioneering research altered the trajectory of projects in virology, oncology, molecular cell biology, and biotechnology. In particular, his work contributed to the discovery that HIV causes AIDS, the creation of HIV-suppression therapies, and the use of recombinant DNA technology that precipitated the creation of synthetic insulin for diabetes patients, improved diagnostic tests for HIV patients, and led to a hepatitis B vaccine. Baltimore was later president of Rockefeller University from 1990 to 1991.
Roger Guillemin, 1977 Nobel Prize in Medicine, “for his discoveries concerning the peptide hormone production of the brain.” The brain hormones he co-discovered are used to diagnose thyroid disorders and treat infertility, diabetes, and prostate cancer. Guillemin delivered the prestigious Harvey Lecture at Rockefeller University in 1974.
Daniel Nathans, 1978 Nobel Prize in Medicine, “for the discovery of restriction enzymes and their application to problems of molecular genetics.” Restriction enzymes defend naturally against viruses by cutting up the invader’s foreign DNA. The applications of his research include the groundbreaking development of recombinant DNA technology, leading to therapies for diabetes and AIDS patients, as well as agricultural advancements in herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant crops. Nathans was a guest investigator at RIMR from 1959 to 1962, where he began this biochemical research.
David H. Hubel, 1981 Nobel Prize in Medicine, “for his discoveries concerning information processing in the visual system.” Hubel first became interested in neural disorders during his summers as a medical student at the Rockefeller-funded Montreal Neurological Institute. The Nobel Prize recognized his insights into mammalian processing of sensory information, work used to treat “lazy eye,” and childhood cataracts. His research also inspired computer-vision technology adopted for assembly line robots, self-driving vehicles, surveillance, and computer-human interaction.
Torsten N. Wiesel, 1981 Nobel Prize in Medicine, “for his discoveries concerning information processing in the visual system.” Wiesel became professor at Rockefeller University in 1983 and president of the University in 1991.
Barbara McClintock, 1983 Nobel Prize in Medicine, “for her discovery of mobile genetic elements.” McClintock pioneered the study of cellular structure and function, revealing that genes are mobile within the chromosomal organization. Her pioneering research on maize led to the discovery that chromosomes undergo cycles of breakage, fusion, and bridge-formation, paving the way for scientific study on how gene expressions change without modifying DNA. Her research contributed to knowledge of embryonic development and the influence of non-genetic factors—like synthetic hormones and even ancestral diet—on cancer and diseases. The Rockefeller Foundation funded McClintock’s further research on maize in 1957, and continued her projects into the 1970s through two other Rockefeller fellows. From 1963 to 1969, McClintock served as consultant to the Agricultural Science Program at the Rockefeller Foundation.
Bruce Merrifield, 1984 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, “for his development of methodology for chemical synthesis on a solid matrix.” He began working at RIMR in 1949, retiring in 1992. His development of solid phase peptide synthesis resulted in condensing the chemical synthesis process from years to mere days in the laboratory. His research also produced a reliable method for investigating the functions of enzymes, hormones, and antibodies, which proved critical for the efficient development of novel therapeutic drugs and antibodies for fighting diseases.
Joseph Goldstein, 1985 Nobel Prize in Medicine, “for his discoveries concerning the regulation of cholesterol metabolism.” Goldstein is a member of the board of trustees of Rockefeller University.
Michael Smith, 1993 Nobel Prize in Chemistry “for his fundamental contributions to the establishment of oligonucleotide-based, site-directed mutagenesis and its development for protein studies.” Smith spent time at Rockefeller University during a sabbatical.
Martin Rodbell, 1994 Nobel Prize in Medicine, “for his discovery of G-proteins and the role of these proteins in signal transduction in cells.” Scientists at RIMR gave Rodbell human chylomicrons for his research.
Edward B. Lewis, 1995 Nobel Prize in Medicine, “for his discoveries concerning the genetic control of early embryonic development.” Lewis’ early career was partially spent at Cambridge University on a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship. Years later, in 1982, Lewis found what he called a “cluster of master control genes” that direct the development of complex organisms, especially at the embryonic stages. Master gene mutations are hypothesized to be among the causes of genetic disorders and cancer.
Günter Blobel, 1999 Nobel Prize in Medicine, “for the discovery that proteins have intrinsic signals that govern their transport and localization in the cell.” Blobel’s discovery of protein targeting occurred amidst the Rockefeller blossoming in cellular biology during the 1950s, and was foundational to modern molecular cell biology. Blobel’s insights generated therapeutic applications of proteins for insulin and growth hormones and enhanced understanding of cystic fibrosis, Alzheimer’s, and AIDS. After graduating in 1967 from the University of Wisconsin, Blobel worked at George Palade’s cell biology laboratory at Rockefeller University, where he has since remained, conducting molecular analyses of cellular functions.
Paul Greengard, 2000 Nobel Prize in Medicine, “for his discoveries concerning signal transduction in the nervous system.” Greengard’s work on neurotransmitters provided insights into neurological abnormalities, psychiatric disorders, and cognitive responses to addictive substances such as caffeine, morphine, and nicotine. His discoveries inspired medicinal uses for the neurotransmitter dopamine in treating Parkinson’s disease, ADHD, and schizophrenia. In 1983, Greengard became a professor at Rockefeller University, where most of his Nobel Prize–winning research was conducted, and from 1995 was director of the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research at Rockefeller.
Paul Nurse, 2001 Nobel Prize in Medicine, “for their discoveries of key regulators of the cell cycle.” He became president of Rockefeller University in 2003 and director of the Anderson Center for Cancer Research at the university.
Roderick MacKinnon, 2003 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, “for structural and mechanistic studies of ion channels.” In 1996, MacKinnon moved to Rockefeller University, where he discovered new insights into the passage of electrical signals through cells. His conclusions clarified basic functions including information transmittance to and from the brain, the regulation of heartbeats, and muscular movement. He also offered new explanations of medical problems resulting from abnormal ion channels, such as epilepsy, migraines, and cystic fibrosis.
Ralph M. Steinman and Bruce A. Beutler, 2011 Nobel Prize in Medicine, “for their discovery of the dendritic cell and its role in adaptive immunity.” As an immunology researcher at Rockefeller University, first as a post-doctoral fellow and later as a professor, Steinman discovered the cell most critical to mammalian immune systems. His identification of the dendritic cell led to the creation of therapies for the management of allergies, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis. Based on Steinman’s research, drugs developed for HIV and cancer treatment are currently undergoing clinical trials. Beutler was a post-doctoral fellow at Rockefeller University from 1983 to 1985, afterwards becoming an assistant professor at the University. During his professorship, he identified a protein molecule that causes inflammation. He later created recombinant molecules to block the protein, developing a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease. He also identified the autoimmune receptors that locate infections, an important contribution to knowledge of autoimmune diseases.