By KARL RITTER and LOUISE NORDSTROM
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.
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.