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Opiate Receptor Discoverer Speaks at Med Center Convocation

Med Center Convocation

Dr. Solomon Snyder, a pioneering neuroscientist, speaks during Georgetown University Medical Center's annual convocation.

November 9, 2011 – National Medal of Science winner Dr. Solomon Snyder (M’62) received Georgetown University Medical Center’s Cura Personalis Award during the center’s fourth annual convocation yesterday.

Snyder, who also attended Georgetown as an undergraduate, discovered the brain’s opiate receptor in the early 1970s and is widely credited with launching a generation of research into neuropeptides, receptors and psychotropic drugs.

The scientist was presented with the Cura Personalis medal “for his innovative achievements and pivotal contributions of a physician-scientist, educator, and pioneer of the field of neuroscience, which continue to influence the direction of modern medicine.”

A Case of Serendipity

Snyder’s keynote address focused on the subject of serendipity.

“I wasn’t really interested in science,” he said about his first year of medical school.

It was only after he took a physiology course with a former Georgetown medical school dean, Dr. John Rose, that the young medical student had a change of heart.

“He made it so exciting,” Snyder said. “There were laboratories where, instead of following a cookbook and adding two drops of this and three drops of that, you actually had hypotheses, asked questions, did experiments, tried to find out new answers and interpret them. And all of a sudden I found that science was a lot of fun.” 

Drug Discovery

Yesterday’s convocation began with a colloquium, “Catalyzing Discovery for Neuropsychiatric Diseases,” with Snyder and a host of panelists made up of GUMC faculty and industry experts, whose work involves drug discovery, regulatory science and intellectual property.

Dr. Howard Federoff, executive vice president for health sciences and executive dean of the School of Medicine, moderated the colloquium.

Snyder began the discussion with a brief history of drug discovery and the growing importance of academic medical centers able to develop a promising drug target through a proof-of-concept stage. 

“In the old days, there was a gulf between academia and the pharmaceutical industry,” he said, “but nobody cared because nothing was being discovered in the universities that could really be translated at a brief time span to the drug industry, so drug companies did their own discovery.”

He noted how much the relationship has changed since that time.

Service to Others

Georgetown President John J. DeGioia thanked the GUMC community at the convocation for a shared commitment to “work in the service of others.”

He cited the Medical Center’s tradition of excellence and contribution to the university’s standing as a Tier 1 Carnegie Foundation research institution, which he said was in large part due to biomedical research conducted by GUMC scientists.

“This convocation is a moment of celebration for our Medical Center, and for the work each of you does each day to fulfill the promise of this place,” DeGioia said. “As you know, our work at Georgetown has been guided since our founding 222 years ago by our Catholic and Jesuit tradition. …The work that you do here, within our Medical Center, enlivens these values and strengthens our tradition.”

Lifetime and Other Awards

GUMC faculty members and students were recognized for their outstanding achievements in research, education and service at the convocation. To see the complete list of this year’s awardees, click here.

A new award for sustained contribution and service to the GUMC community was also unveiled at the convocation. The Lifetime Contribution Award was awarded posthumously to Mark Smulson, a professor of biochemistry and molecular and cellular biology for 44 years.

Smulson, who was honored for his leadership in scholarship, teaching and service, passed away this past September.

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