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The prestigious BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Biomedicine category goes this year to Robert J. Lefkowitz, MD, James B. Duke Professor of Medicine and Biochemistry and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator at Duke University Medical Center.

This is only the second year the award has been given.

Dr. Lefkowitz’s research has affected millions of cardiac and other patients worldwide. Lefkowitz proved the existence of, isolated, characterized and still studies G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs).

The receptors, which are located on the surface of the membranes that surround cells, are the targets of almost half of the drugs on the market today, including beta blockers for heart disease, antihistamines and ulcer medications.

Lefkowitz, a Duke faculty member since 1973, also investigates related enzymes, proteins, and signaling pathways and continues to learn all he can about these pivotal receptors.

"I am surprised, delighted and honored by the award, and am honored to be in the company of Joan Massagué, a fellow HHMI investigator who won last year," said Lefkowitz, who is also a Duke professor of immunology and a basic research cardiologist in the Duke Heart Center.

"While it is a relatively new award, I know it is a very distinguished award, and I am delighted to be the recipient."

The BBVA Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Biomedicine provides the winner a cash prize of 400,000 euros (about $563,400). The award, organized by the BBVA Foundation in partnership with Spain’s National Research Council, was announced at 11 a.m. Madrid time on Jan. 27.

Dr. Lefkowitz is being awarded the prize for the work he has done since the beginning of his career and includes his ongoing studies of GPCRs and other key receptors.

His research group first identified, purified, and cloned the genes for these receptors in the 1970s and 1980s, and revealed the structure of the receptors as well as their functions and regulation. This work facilitated and fundamentally altered the way in which numerous therapeutic agents have been developed.

Lefkowitz is also extremely proud of his mentoring work and of the students and fellows he has worked with over the years, many of whom have gone on to run successful laboratories and uncover their own discoveries about GPCRs and other receptors.

The Biomedicine Award honors contributions that significantly advance the stock of knowledge in the biomedicine field because of their importance and originality.

The BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Awards seek to recognize and encourage world-class research at the international level, and are similar to the Nobel Prizes, with an annual total of 3.2 million euros given to deserving winners, because of the breadth of the scientific and artistic areas they have covered during their careers.