Americans win chemistry Nobel for cell receptor research

Nobel Prize winners in chemistry, Dr. Lefkowitz and Dr. Kobilka.

Two American scientists won the 2012 Nobel Prize for chemistry on Wednesday for research into how cells respond to external stimuli that is helping to develop better drugs to fight diseases such as diabetes, cancer and depression.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said the 8 million crown ($1.2 million) prize went to Robert Lefkowitz, 69, and Brian Kobilka, 57, for discovering the inner workings of G-protein-coupled receptors, which allow cells to respond to chemical messages such as adrenaline rushes.

“Around half of all medications act through these receptors, among them beta blockers, antihistamines and various kinds of psychiatric medications,” the Nobel Prize committee said.

Working out better ways to target the receptors, known as GPCRs, is an area of keen interest to pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.

Lefkowitz told a news conference by telephone he was asleep when the phone call came from Sweden.

“I did not hear it – I must share with you that I wear earplugs to sleep. So my wife gave me an elbow. So there it was, a total shock and surprise,” he said.

He said he has no idea what he will do with the prize money he shares with Kobilka, who spent the early part of his career in Lefkowitz’ lab at Duke.

“It’s funny. I can honestly tell you it was about an hour after this all hit, it dawned on me for the first time that it’s a lot of money,” he told Reuters later from his home in Durham, North Carolina.

“It’s over a mill dollars to share with Brian Kobilka. I haven’t a clue. As they say, it ain’t about the money.”

Kobilka said when the phone call first came in from Stockholm, he thought it was a crank call or a wrong number.

“Then it rang again. You get congratulated by these members of the Swedish committee and things happen pretty fast,” he said in a telephone interview from his home In Palo Alto, California.

He said he was being recognized primarily for his work in determining the structure of the receptors and what they look like in three dimensions.

“Probably the most high profile piece of work was published last year, where we have a crystal structure of the receptor activating the G protein. It’s caught in the act of signaling across the membrane,” he said.

“HOLY GRAIL”

Sven Lidin, Professor of Inorganic Chemistry at Lund University and chairman of the committee, said the discovery had been vital for medical research.

“Knowing what they (the receptors) look like and how they function will provide us with the tools to make better drugs with fewer side effects,” he added.

The receptors were “the holy grail of membrane protein research”, said Mark Sansom, Professor of Molecular Biophysics at Oxford University.

GPCRs are linked to a wide range of diseases, since they play a central role in many biological functions in the body, but developing new drugs to target them accurately has been difficult because of a lack of fundamental understanding as to how they function. Experts say the work of the Nobel Prize winners has opened the door to making better medicines.

Drugs targeting GPCRs have potential in treating illnesses involving the central nervous system, heart conditions, inflammation and metabolic disorders.

Mark Downs, chief executive of Britain’s Society of Biology, said the researchers had covered important ground in more than one discipline.

“This ground-breaking work spanning genetics and biochemistry has laid the basis for much of our understanding of modern pharmacology as well as how cells in different parts of living organisms can react differently to external stimulation,” he said in a statement.

Johan Aqvist, Professor of Chemistry at Sweden’s Uppsala University, said Lefkowitz was “the father of this entire field”.

“Out of the roughly 1,400 drugs that exist in the world, about 1,000 of them are little pills that you consume, and the majority of these are based in these receptors,” he told Reuters.

Chemistry was the third of this year’s Nobel prizes. Prizes for achievements in science, literature and peace were first awarded in 1901 in accordance with the will of dynamite inventor and businessman Alfred Nobel. ($1 = 6.6125 Swedish crowns)



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Protesters say new Met Opera is anti-Semitic

Protesters, including a former mayor and governor, gathered outside of the Metropolitan Opera on Monday afternoon to protest the opening of “The Death of Klinghoffer.”

Local

Brooklyn girl's death ruled a homicide

The New York City Medical Examiner has ruled the death of a Brooklyn toddler a homicide. Jeida Torres, 3, was found bruised and unresponsive Saturday…

Local

New York City continues to prepare for Ebola…

New York City continues to prepare for the possibility of Ebola. There have been numerous scares, but no confirmed cases. Representatives from about 150 unions…

Local

NYPD nabs alleged serial bank robber

  The NYPD has arrested a man they say is responsible for multiple Manhattan bank robberies this month. Police have arrested a Brooklyn man they…

Entertainment

We the Economy: Morgan Spurlock's new crusade

If Morgan Spurlock gets his way, you won't be able to avoid We the Economy, the series of 20 shorts films curated by the "Super…

Arts

3 Parody plays lampoon your childhood, adulthood and…

Whether you loved the source material or you're going in blind, these parody plays have something for every audience member. We rate three of NYC's hottest satirical shows.

Gossip

Who has more power: Harry Styles or Amal…

Amal Clooney comes in fourth on The Evening Standard's Most Influential Londoners list.

Music

#AskPaul McCartney reveals his love of American pop…

For an Englishman, Paul McCartney's pop culture tastes would fit right in stateside. The former Beatle (@PaulMcCartney) revealed that he has a real thing for…

NFL

John Idzik: 'We did a ton of background'…

Given John Idzik spent the previous five years with the Seahawks before he joined the Jets last January, there is a comfort level for the organization.

NFL

Jets add sizzle to struggling passing game with…

The Jets’ trade for Percy Harvin may have an air of desperation on the surface, but at 1-6 this season is hanging only by a thread.

NFL

Jason Pierre-Paul: 'We've got to regroup' during bye…

“We’ve got to regroup and figure out what went wrong,” said defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. “When we come back, we want to be a great team.”

NFL

Breno Giacomini: Media blowing up Golden Tate-Percy Harvin…

According to Breno Giacomini, the fight between Golden Tate and Percy Harvin during Super Bowl week was over by the time the lineman turned around.

Education

Is a 'gap year' after high school for…

It’s a familiar script that millions of students follow each year: Graduate high school and then immediately start college. But more and more students are…

Parenting

New news about Kate Middleton's pregnancy

The Palace released a statement about Kate Middleton's pregnancy.

Parenting

Cool book for kids: 'The Princess In Black'

"The Princess In Black" will change the way girls view princesses.

Wellbeing

Gabby Bernstein: The 3 questions I always get

For the last decade, I’ve been writing self-help books and preaching the Gospel of Gabby to audiences throughout the world. And no matter what country…