Honorary Degree Recipients
2019: Richard Axel, M.D. — Doctor of Science, honoris causa
Fredric B. Meyer, M.D., executive dean for education of Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science; Gianrico Farrugia, M.D., president and CEO of Mayo Clinic; Richard Axel, M.D., Nobel Laureate University Professor, Columbia University; and Jim Maher III, Ph.D., dean of Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.
- Nobel Laureate University Professor, Columbia University
- Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Richard Axel, M.D., is a molecular biologist; Nobel Laureate; university professor; professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics, neuroscience and pathology; investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and co-director of the Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute at Columbia University in New York City.
In earlier studies with his colleagues geneticist Michael Wigler, Ph.D., and microbiologist Saul Silverstein, Ph.D., Dr. Axel developed gene transfer techniques that permit the introduction of virtually any gene into any mammalian cell. These studies not only afforded a novel approach to isolate genes but also permitted a detailed analysis of how they worked. This approach led to the isolation and functional analysis of the gene for the lymphocyte surface protein, CD4, the cellular receptor for the AIDS virus, HIV.
Dr. Axel then began to apply molecular biology to problems in neuroscience, with the expectation that genetics could interface with neuroscience to approach the tenuous relationship between genes, behavior and perception. His studies on the logic of the sense of smell revealed more than a thousand genes involved in the recognition of odors and provided insight into how genes shape our perception of the sensory environment. This research earned him the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Dr. Axel’s current work centers on how recognition of odors is translated into an internal representation of sensory quality in the brain and how this representation leads to meaningful thoughts and behavior.
Dr. Axel is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Science and the American Philosophical Society. He is a fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Dr. Axel obtained a bachelor’s degree from Columbia College and a medical degree from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
2017: Robert J. Lefkowitz, M.D. — Doctor of Science, honoris causa
Jim Maher III, Ph.D., dean of Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences; John H. Noseworthy, M.D., president and CEO of Mayo Clinic; Robert J. Lefkowitz, M.D., James B. Duke Professor of Medicine at Duke University Medical Center; and Fredric B. Meyer, M.D., executive dean for education of Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science.
- James B. Duke Professor of Medicine, Duke University Medical Center
- Professor of Biochemistry and Chemistry, Duke University Medical Center
- Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
- Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2012
Robert J. Lefkowitz, M.D., is James B. Duke Professor of Medicine and Professor of Biochemistry and Chemistry at the Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina. He has been an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute since 1976.
Dr. Lefkowitz began his research career in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when there was no clear consensus that receptors even existed. His group spent 15 years developing techniques for radioligand binding, solubilization, purification and reconstitution of the four adrenergic receptors known at the time.
In 1986, Dr. Lefkowitz transformed the understanding of what had become known as G protein coupled receptors (GPCRs), when he and his colleagues cloned the gene and cDNA for the β2 adrenergic receptor, and recognized its sequence homology with rhodopsin, thus establishing them as the first members of a new family of proteins, the Seven Transmembrane Receptors (7TMRs). This superfamily is now known to be the largest, most diverse and most therapeutically accessible.
Dr. Lefkowitz's lab also discovered and cloned the G protein coupled receptor kinases (GRKs) and β-arrestins, which mediate receptor desensitization, and discovered "biased" signaling through β-arrestins or G proteins. Most recently, he has been applying the tools of structural biology to understand biased signaling at atomic level resolution.
Dr. Lefkowitz has received numerous awards and honors, including the National Medal of Science, the Shaw Prize, the Albany Prize and the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He was elected to the USA National Academy of Sciences in 1988, the Institute of Medicine in 1994, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1988.
2016: Michael S. Brown, M.D. — Doctor of Science, honoris causa
Michele Y. Halyard, M.D., Michael S. Brown, M.D., Bobbie S. Gostout, M.D., and Jim Maher III, Ph.D.
- Regental Professor, University of Texas Southwestern Medical School
- Director, Jonsson Center for Molecular Genetics
- Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine, 1985
Michael S. Brown, M.D., was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1941. In 1962, he graduated from the College of the University of Pennsylvania and in 1966, from its School of Medicine. During his residency in internal medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, he met fellow resident Joseph L. Goldstein, M.D. The two established the friendship and mutual respect that led to their long-term scientific collaboration.
From 1968 to 1971, Dr. Brown trained in biochemistry at the National Institutes of Health. In 1971, he joined the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas where he succeeded in purifying the enzyme HMG-CoA reductase, which participates in cholesterol biosynthesis. Dr. Brown and Dr. Goldstein collaborated to elucidate the biochemical and genetic mechanisms that regulate the level of this enzyme.
In 1974, the two young scientists discovered that human cells possess on their surfaces a protein that they called the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) receptor. The receptor carries LDL into the cell by a process that they called receptor-mediated endocytosis. Within the cell, LDL turns off HMG-CoA reductase, stopping cholesterol synthesis. Subjects with familial hypercholesterolemia (one in 500 people) have defective LDL receptors and suffer early heart attacks.
The work of Drs. Brown and Goldstein established the first cause of heart attacks that could be traced to the molecular level, providing a strong scientific foundation for the theory that cholesterol-carrying LDL particles are a major cause of heart attacks. Building on their work, scientists in the pharmaceutical industry developed drugs called statins that inhibit HMG-CoA reductase, increase the activity of LDL receptors and lower LDL cholesterol.
In the early 1980s, Dr. Brown, Dr. Goldstein and their colleagues purified the LDL receptor, isolated its gene and traced the mutations to the molecular level. As a result, familial hypercholesterolemia is among the best understood of all human genetic diseases.
During the following decade, Dr. Brown and Dr. Goldstein turned their attention to the feedback process that regulates the genes for the LDL receptor and the enzymes of cholesterol synthesis. They discovered a family of proteins, designated sterol regulatory element-binding proteins (SREBPs) that control these genes. The SREBPs also control the process by which the body converts sugars to fats and thus they are important in obesity and diabetes mellitus.
Throughout the 1970s, when their scientific work was most intensive, Dr. Brown and Dr. Goldstein continued to function as academic physicians, each performing clinical attending rounds on the general medicine wards of Parkland Memorial Hospital.
Dr. Brown is married to the former Alice Lapin. They have two daughters, Elizabeth and Sara. He currently is Regental Professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School where he holds the W.A. Moncrief Chair and directs the Jonsson Center for Molecular Genetics.
Dr. Brown has received honorary degrees from eight institutions. With Dr. Goldstein, he has shared 21 major awards, including the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1985, the National Medal of Science in 1988, and the Albany Medical Center Prize in 2003.
2015: Peter C. Agre, M.D. — Doctor of Science, honoris causa
Wyatt W. Decker, M.D., Peter C. Agre, M.D., and Mark A. Warner, M.D.
- Professor and director, Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute
- Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, 2003
Peter C. Agre, M.D., is the descendent of Norwegian and Swedish immigrants who settled in western Minnesota. He credits his interest in science to his father, Courtland, former chairman of chemistry at St. Olaf and Augsburg Colleges. He credits his interest in humanitarian causes to his mother, Ellen, a farm girl who raised Peter and his five siblings. Dr. Agre and his brother Jim were Eagle Scouts who paddled each summer in the Boundary Waters and explored the winter landscape on cross-country skis.
Dr. Agre studied chemistry at Augsburg College (B.A. 1970) and medicine at Johns Hopkins (M.D. 1974). He completed his medical residency at Case Western Reserve University Hospital and oncology fellowship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Agre joined the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine faculty in 1981 and rose to the rank of professor of biological chemistry and medicine.
In 2003, Dr. Agre shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovery of the aquaporins, a family of water channel proteins found throughout nature. Referred to as "the plumbing system for cells," aquaporins are involved in numerous physiological processes in humans and are implicated in multiple clinical disorders including malaria.
Since 2008, Dr. Agre has served as director of the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. He oversees 20 faculty research groups as well as field activities in Zimbabwe and Zambia. Dr. Agre is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine for which he chaired the Committee on Human Rights. He holds 17 honorary doctorates from around the world. He has received the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award from the Boy Scouts of America and Commandership in the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit from King Harald V.
From 2009 to 2011, Dr. Agre served as president and chair of the board of advisors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. As part of the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy, Dr. Agre has led visits of U.S. scientists to North Korea, Myanmar, Iran and Cuba.
Dr. Agre and his wife, Mary, have been married 40 years and have four grown children and a granddaughter. The Agre family paddles the arctic rivers in Alaska and northern Canada.
2014: William (Bill) W. George — Doctor of the College, honoris causa
John H. Noseworthy, M.D., William (Bill) W. George, and Mark A. Warner, M.D.
- Member, Mayo Clinic Board of Trustees
- Former chairman and CEO, Medtronic
Bill George is professor of management practice at Harvard Business School, where he has taught leadership since 2004, and the former chair and CEO of Medtronic. He is the author of the five best-selling books: "Authentic Leadership," "True North," "Finding Your True North," "True North Groups" and "Seven Lessons for Leading in Crisis." His most recent book, "Discover Your True North" was published in August 2015. Mr. George is faculty chair of Harvard Business School's executive education program Authentic Leadership Development and co-chair of Leading Global Enterprises.
Mr. George joined Medtronic in 1989 as president and chief operating officer, was chief executive officer from 1991 to 2001, and chairman of the board from 1996 to 2002. Earlier in his career, he was an executive with Honeywell and Litton Industries and served in the U.S. Department of Defense.
Mr. George currently serves as a director of ExxonMobil, Goldman Sachs and Mayo Clinic, and also recently served on the board of Novartis and Target. He is a director of Minnesota's Destination Medical Center Corporation, World Economic Forum USA and the Guthrie Theater. He has served as chair of the board of Allina Health System, Abbott-Northwestern Hospital, United Way of the Greater Twin Cities and AdvaMed.
He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2012. He has been named one of "Top 25 Business Leaders of the Past 25 Years" by PBS, "Executive of the Year — 2001" by the Academy of Management and "Director of the Year — 2001-2002" by the National Association of Corporate Directors.
Mr. George has made frequent appearances on television and radio and his articles have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Fortune, Harvard Business Review and numerous other publications.
Mr. George received his BSIE with high honors from Georgia Tech and his MBA with high distinction from Harvard University, where he was a Baker Scholar. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and has received honorary Ph.D.s from Georgia Tech, the University of St. Thomas, Augsburg College and Bryant University. During 2002 to 2003, he was professor at IMD International and Ecole Polytechnique in Lausanne, Switzerland, and executive-in-residence at Yale School of Management in 2003.
He and his wife, Penny, reside in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
2013: Thomas J. Brokaw — Doctor of Letters, honoris causa
John H. Noseworthy, M.D., Thomas J. Brokaw, and Mark A. Warner, M.D.
- Member, Mayo Clinic Board of Trustees
- Special Correspondent, NBC News
Thomas J. Brokaw has spent his entire distinguished journalism career with NBC News beginning in 1966 in the Los Angeles bureau where he covered Ronald Reagan's first run for public office, the rise of the 1960s counterculture, the assassination of Bobby Kennedy and the 1968 presidential campaign.
From Los Angeles, Mr. Brokaw went to Washington as the White House correspondent during Watergate and as the principal backup for John Chancellor as anchor of "NBC Nightly News." Next stop: New York and the "TODAY Show" followed by his appointment as anchor and managing editor of "NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw." He took over "Meet the Press" for the 2008 campaign when his close friend and colleague Tim Russert passed away.
In addition to his daily news-gathering responsibilities, Mr. Brokaw reported on more than 30 documentaries covering subjects ranging from AIDS, Los Angeles gangs, race, education, medicine, immigration and global warming.
Mr. Brokaw has an impressive list of firsts, including the first interview with Mikhail Gorbachev, the first network report on human rights abuses in Tibet accompanied by an exclusive interview with the Dalai Lama and the only American network anchor to report from Berlin the night the Berlin Wall came down.
In 1998, Mr. Brokaw published his first book, "The Greatest Generation," one of the most popular nonfiction books of the 20th century. He followed that with five other books, including "Boom! Voices of the Sixties" and, most recently, "The Time of Our Lives." He is also a popular essayist for publications ranging from "The New York Times" to "Rolling Stone" and a wide assortment of other periodicals and newspapers.
Mr. Brokaw has won every major award in his craft, including the Peabody, Duponts, Emmys and lifetime achievement recognition. He is the first recipient of an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Mayo Clinic and the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science.