Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
This image made available by the Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, Sweden Wednesday Oct. 10, 2012 shows Americans Robert Lefkowitz and Brian Kobilka who won the 2012 Nobel Prize in chemistry Wednesday for studies of proteins that let body cells respond to signals from the outside. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said the two researchers had made groundbreaking discoveries on an important family of receptors, known as G-protein-coupled receptors. (AP Photo/Scanpix/Swedish Academy of Sciences, HO) (AP Photo/Handout)
2 U.S. scientists win Nobel chemistry prize for work key to receptor drugs
First Published Oct 10 2012 07:22 am • Last Updated Oct 10 2012 12:01 pm

STOCKHOLM • Two American researchers won the Nobel Prize in chemistry Wednesday for studies of protein receptors that let body cells sense and respond to outside signals like danger or the flavor of food. Such studies are key for developing better drugs.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said Robert Lefkowitz and Brian Kobilka had made groundbreaking discoveries, mainly in the 1980s, on an important family of receptors, known as G-protein-coupled receptors.

At a glance

A glance at the Nobel Prize for chemistry

Who won? » Americans Robert Lefkowitz of the Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, and Brian Kobilka of the Stanford University School of Medicine in California

For what? » The two won the prize for their discoveries in an important family of receptors, known as G-protein-coupled receptors.

The significance? » Learning about G-protein-coupled receptors will help scientists come up with better drugs since about half of all medications including beta blockers and antihistamines act on these receptors.

What they said? » Lefkowitz: “I’m feeling very, very excited...I did not hear (the phone ring)...I wear earplugs, so my wife gave me an elbow. And there it was. .... It was a total shock and surprise.” Kobilka: “They passed the phone around and congratulated me. I guess they do that so you actually believe them. When one person calls you, it can be a joke, but when five people with convincing Swedish accents call you, then it isn’t a joke.”

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

About half of all medications act on these receptors, including beta blockers and antihistamines, so learning about them will help scientists to come up with better drugs.

The human body has about 1,000 kinds of such receptors, structures on the surface of cells, which let the body respond to a wide variety of chemical signals, like adrenaline. Some receptors are in the nose, tongue and eyes, and let us sense smells, tastes and light.

"They work as a gateway to the cell," Lefkowitz told a news conference in Stockholm by phone. "As a result they are crucial ... to regulate almost every known physiological process with humans."

Lefkowitz, 69, is an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and professor at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina.

Kobilka, 57, worked for Lefkowitz at Duke before transferring to Stanford University School of Medicine in California, where he is now a professor.

Lefkowitz said he was fast asleep when the Nobel committee called, but he didn’t hear it because he was wearing ear plugs. So his wife picked up the phone.

"She said, ‘There’s a call here for you from Stockholm,’" Lefkowitz told The Associated Press. "I knew they ain’t calling to find out what the weather is like in Durham today."

He said he didn’t have an "inkling" that he was being considered for the Nobel Prize.


story continues below
story continues below

"Initially, I expected I’d have this huge burst of excitement. But I didn’t. I was comfortably numb," Lefkowitz said.

Kobilka said he found out around 2:30 a.m., after the Nobel committee called his home twice. He said he didn’t get to the phone the first time, but that when he picked up the second time, he spoke to five members of the committee.

"They passed the phone around and congratulated me," Kobilka told AP. I guess they do that so you actually believe them. When one person calls you, it can be a joke, but when five people with convincing Swedish accents call you, then it isn’t a joke."

He said he would put his half of the 8 million kronor ($1.2 million) award toward retirement or "pass it on to my kids."

The academy said it was long a mystery how cells interact with their environment and adapt to new situations, such as when they react to adrenaline by increasing blood pressure and making the heart beat faster.

Scientists suspected that cell surfaces had some type of receptor for hormones.

Using radioactivity, Lefkowitz managed to unveil receptors including the receptor for adrenaline, and started to understand how it works.

Kobilka and his team realized that there is a whole family of receptors that look alike — a family that is now called G-protein-coupled receptors.

In 2011, Kobilka achieved another breakthrough when his team captured an image of the receptor for adrenaline at the moment when it is activated by a hormone and sends a signal into the cell. The academy called the image "a molecular masterpiece."

The award is "fantastic recognition for helping us further understand the intricate details of biochemical systems in our bodies," said Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, president of the American Chemical Society.

"They both have made great contributions to our understanding of health and disease," Shakhashiri said. "This is going to help us a great deal to develop new pharmaceuticals, new medicines for combating disease."

Next Page >


Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.