TICKER: U.S. scientists share Chemistry Nobel for Cell Receptors

Two U.S. scientists won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering how cell receptors involved in about half of all medicines work.

Robert J. Lefkowitz, 69, of Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, and Brian K. Kobilka, 57, of Stanford University School of Medicine in Palo Alto, California, will share the 8 million-krona ($1.2 million) award, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said at a news conference today.

They received the prize for their work on “cells and sensibility,” the academy said. The men exposed the inner workings of the largest and most pervasive family of cell receptors, known as G-protein-coupled.

Lodged in the fatty membranes that surround cells, they are the body’s mechanism to read its environment and play a role in sight, smell, taste, as well as pain tolerance and blood pressure. The receptors are the targets of about half of all medicines, the academy said.

“Thanks to the work of Robert Lefkowitz and Brian Kobilka, we know what the receptor looks like in the finest molecular detail and we also know it’s just one of a huge family of receptors,” Sven Lidin, a member of the Nobel committee for chemistry, said at the Stockholm news conference. “Knowing how they work helps us to make better drugs with fewer side effects.”

Lefkowitz, a professor of medicine at Duke and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, said he “didn’t have a clue” he would be in the running for the prize.

“I did not go to sleep last night waiting for this call,” he said by telephone at the news conference. “I’m feeling very, very excited. I was fast asleep and the phone rang and I didn’t hear it. I wear earplugs when I sleep and my wife gave me an elbow.”

He was planning on going to the office and getting haircut today though the haircut will have to wait because he said it will be “a crazy day at the office.”

Last year’s Nobel in chemistry was awarded to Dan Shechtman for his discovery of quasicrystals, which changed the prevailing views about the atomic structure of matter.

Annual prizes for achievements in physics, chemistry, medicine, peace and literature were established in the will of Alfred Nobel, the Swedish inventor of dynamite, who died in 1896. The Nobel Foundation was established in 1900 and the prizes were first handed out the following year. The Swedish science academy chooses the chemistry and physics winners.

The first chemistry prize was awarded to Jacobus H. van ’t Hoff for his work on rates of reaction, chemical equilibrium and osmotic pressure.

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