Following the announcements for the Nobel Prizes in medicine or physiology and in physics, the Nobel committee today announced the prize for chemistry, rewarding two U.S. researchers for their work on cells and their interaction with the environment.
Robert Lefkowitz and Brian Kobilka were announced today to be recipients of the $1.2 million prize, which they will share, the Nobel committee stating that their collecting work represented "knowledge ... of the greatest benefit to mankind."
The announcement at the Nobel press conference came in quite an unorthodox method as committee member Sven Lidin shouted “Boo!” into the microphone at the assembled reporters, saying that the instinctive reaction that they had, the ‘fight or flight’ reaction that pumped adrenaline into the blood, was just one way in which chemical signals were relayed over the countless cells of the body, and that Lefkowitz and Kobilka’s work helped to explain this.
In essence, the researchers’ work focused on the interaction of the billions of cells within the body with their immediate environment, which being largely chemical sees this interaction with the various proteins, namely hormones, in the body. Their work focused specifically on G protein coupled receptors (GPCR), which Nobel winner Dr. Lefkowitz, who presently works at that Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) in Maryland, explained as being "the gateway to the cells for many different neurotransmitters and hormones in our body,” adding that, "They are crucially positioned to regulate almost every known physiological process in humans. As physicians, what we need to do in cases of disease is regulate the activity of these, like adrenaline, as you heard, serotonin, and dopamine."
But GPCRs are not only responsible for the cell’s interaction within the body’s environment but indeed the body’s interaction with its physical environment, as, after all, any organism is a collection of cells and thus these receptors and the work done upon them are essential to our understanding of many of the body’s functions.
Reacting to the news, Dr. Lefkowitz said he did not at first hear the phone call made by the Nobel committee to inform him of his prize, saying, "I must share with you that I wear earplugs and so my wife gave me an elbow, 'call for you', and there it was: a total shock and surprise, as I'm sure many before me have experienced. I'm thinking this is going to be a very, very hectic day. I was going to get a haircut—which if you could see me is quite a necessity—but I'm afraid that'll have to be postponed."
Similarly, Dr. Kobilka was not able to attend the first few phone calls that the Nobel committee made but eventually spoke to various members, saying, "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."
Mark Sansom of Oxford University spoke about the pair’s work, saying, “This is work at the biology/chemistry interface of great importance, and also with considerable impact in the broader sense."
The remaining Nobels for literature, peace and economics will be announced later this week.